ST. LOUIS -- Maybe you forgot about it, given Syracuse’s absence from last year’s NCAA tournament and all the talk about postseason bans, suspensions and bubbles.
If so, the No. 10 seed Orange’s surprisingly easy 70-51 win over No. 7 seed Dayton on Friday underscored a long-held March fact: Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone is not something opposing teams enjoy seeing this time of year.
The zone’s ability to gum up the works and turn otherwise efficient offensive teams into a puddle of tears is a welcome return sight only for Syracuse fans and those who like clanged 3-pointers. But it gives the Orange an element of danger moving forward.
Dayton played right into Boeheim’s hands early on. Rather than trying to pierce the middle of the zone and kick out, the Flyers settled for a series of long 3-pointers and limp side-to-side movement. Fourteen of Dayton’s 29 field-goal attempts in the first half were 3-pointers, and while five went in, it was fool's gold.
Things got even worse in the second half. The Flyers missed 17 of their first 20 shots, fell behind by 23 points and sank only one 3-pointer, with 2:22 left and the game well out of reach. Leading scorers Charles Cooke and Scoochie Smith went a combined 8-for-22 from the field.
Perhaps we should have seen this coming. This wasn’t a great 3-point shooting team all year, and Dayton struggled down the stretch, going 14-of-52 from long range in its previous three games. Syracuse's length against a Flyers team that didn't start a player over 6-foot-6 proved a major difference-maker.
This hasn’t been one of Boeheim’s best defensive teams. Pittsburgh shot 48.2 percent against the zone in beating Syracuse in the ACC tournament, while Florida State connected on 47.5 percent from the field in the regular-season finale. But those were teams well-versed against this particular defense. Preparing for it on short notice is a tougher assignment.
Syracuse probably should have been in Dayton for the First Four. Dayton certainly wishes the selection committee would have put the Orange somewhere, anywhere else. Will future opponents in this tournament feel the same?