On Tuesday night, Boston College won a game doing things they mostly hadn’t done all season. Points in the paint (34), nearly perfect from the free throw line (18-19) and maybe most importantly, points off turnovers (23-11), where the Eagles forced 17 Wolfpack turnovers that resulted in a +12 margin off them.
Saturday though, BC found out that going on the road to win an ACC game isn’t easy, even against a team you had recently routed, as Syracuse gained more than a measure of revenge, drubbing the Eagles, 76-53.
Thirteen days earlier, it looked so easy. BC scored at will in any way they chose and although they turned the ball over 13 times leading to 19 SU points, the product of the rest of their offense and Syracuse looking like they had too much to drink on New Year’s Eve, was plenty to gain the win.
The list of what went wrong yesterday is lengthy indeed.
- BC took just 48 shots from the field, primarily because they turned the ball over so frequently (20) including 15 in the first half when the Orange raced to a 35-22 lead.
- Unlike the NC State game where the Eagles got out in transition off Wolfpack mistakes, BC could only force 6 turnovers in this one.
- The two teams were polar opposites defensively, with Syracuse active and engaged and using their length to push BC away from the basket, take away their movement, as well as forcing those turnovers, while BC tired noticeably with SU shooting nearly 54% in the second half and essentially imposing their will.
There were definitely other issues as well, but as has been the case through the recent history of this rivalry, BC’s single biggest issue is their attack of the Syracuse 2-3 zone.
We’ve talked in the past about the keys to beating the zone: beat the zone down the floor before it sets up, dribble penetration, screening the zone, ball reversal, 3 point shooting and using the short corner space and offensive rebounding, but nowhere is more important than the free throw line area, the high post, that point of contention. Like winning the election if you win Ohio, it is location you need to control and requires a player with a special skill set and understanding to maneuver in there.
Unfortunately, there are so few times during the course of the year teams see zones anymore and even fewer they see where a team plays it so well and so exclusively, the skill has little time to develop and even less to be utilized once developed. However, if there is one piece I would like you to take away from playing that spot, it is the concept of “shot, dump, reverse”.
It takes a special kind of player to live in the area. It is like being a spy surrounded by the enemy at every turn. It takes some level of size, ball skills to shoot and pass and the ability to process decisions very quickly but in a situation you find yourself in very rarely. This is where a very mechanical rule of “shot, dump, reverse”, really helps the process.
There is a reason the commands are in that order..that is the order they need to be followed.
Shot: That high post offensive player, who during the majority of the game was Nik Popovic has a square area from the middle of the free throw lane on either side to just above the free throw line, to operate. His first rule of thumb when receiving the ball in there is to catch, turn and face the basket and if open, shoot. Turn expecting to shoot and change course if it isn’t there.
Why? Most zones will have the four players outside the center pinch to cover the high post elbows and low post blocks. If the center does not step up and jam that player, that will be available. Popovic has that skill set to make that shot. Syracuse plays the center and wings very high, so that can make that shot unavailable, but Popovic was open more than his fair share the other day.
Connar Tava was also in that spot, but has trouble both making that shot and the size to handle the defenders around him.
Dump: Now that we have gotten the ball to that high post and the player has found himself covered, dump it down inside. Most teams have some sort of 1-3-1 attack against a 2-3 zone and BC attack generally has a low post option. If the wings do not constrict back into the lane quickly enough, the dump and layup on the low block are available.
Reverse: With the shot and the dump not available, that would mean that all five defenders should be in the paint. Otherwise, the guard defenders would need to be spread out to cover wing offensive players leaving that free throw line offensive player 1 on 1 with the center (skill set again!). With the defense constricted, the pass to the opposite wing is available (always feed it back out opposite of where you got it from).
So what happened to BC?: I am not saying they didn’t get it right some of the time, a broken clock is right at least twice a day right? But for every time that they went in exactly the right order (see Connar Tava’s assist to Jerome Robinson for a 3 at the 17:34 mark in the second half), they couldn’t follow the script.
Open shot opportunities, but they wouldn’t face the basket to see it or take it when it was there. Reversing before looking to dump which meant the wing players were still not constricted to the paint and those wings unavailable.
How do you solve it?: This one is tough. As we discussed, the zone at this level of execution is not something BC sees a lot of. You can see when BC goes zone, it looks nothing like Syracuse’s, few will, so very hard to practice and therefore execute against.
Look to perhaps move someone else in that spot. This takes a special person and honestly, the person best equipped to do it, is Jerome Robinson. Robinson can add a drive component the others can’t, but it is unlikely you will see that due to his need to stay on the perimeter and what it would mean to BC’s matchups defensively with Robinson at the four.
Finally, just teach “shot, dump, reverse”.