Buzz Williams deserves most of the credit for keeping his team in last night’s Elite 8 matchup against Syrcacuse. The Golden Eagles’ shooting debacle notwithstanding, Williams' game plan created ample clean looks, which is about all anyone can hope for against Jim Boeheim's vaunted 2-3 zone.
Unfortunately, Marquette couldn't hit a shot, literally. The Golden Eagles set the record for fewest points scored in a regional final during the shot clock era, which would be some time not long after the fall of Rome.
Put it another way, to win a game shooting 22.6%, a team would need to foul on every possession, and the opposing team would need to miss most free throws. That’s a bit of an exaggeration but you get the point. Despite their inability to put the ball in the cylinder, Marquette's approach is instructive for future Syracuse opponents.
How to Beat Syracuse
How to Beat Syracuse
With a bit of insight, our SnapCall producers challenged the TV audience with a strategic question: how often would the Golden Eagles get the ball into the paint during the first half? For you non-ballers out there, the post is the most vulnerable spot of the 2-3. When the ball arrives there, the zone is forced to collapse toward the basket which often opens up shooters around the perimeter, but it can also lead to easy baskets if the defensive center is caught too far from the bucket.
On Saturday, it was apparent that coach Williams prepared his players to feed the high post as much as possible. Note that Indiana failed to do this effectively in the Sweet 16, and now they're watching the tournament from frat parties back in Bloomington.
By the 6:30 mark of the first half, the Golden Eagles dug themselves a 19-7 hole, but Marquette stuck to the original plan – bang it inside. Although down, it was plausible to see a run coming from the blue and gold. Marquette got the ball into the paint on 18 of their 28 possessions in the first half. Although they don’t light it up on a normal night, it seemed only a matter of time before Williams' crew got a few shots to fall. Sure enough, the buzzer sounded at the end of the half, and Syracuse's lead had been cut to just six points.
Let's break this down a bit further. On several possessions in the first frame, Marquette big body forward Davante Gardner was able to catch and shoot, uncontested, from the free throw line. After connecting on a few shots in a row, Syracuse's bigs were forced to adjust. Around the 4:00 mark, the Orange's forwards began to step up and prevent Gardner from getting open looks.
The down side for Syracuse? With the zone shifted forward, Marquette was able to run players along the baseline behind the zone. This allowed Gardner to keep the ball moving with some excellent drop down passing from the high post, leading to some easy looks, and bringing Marquette back from the abyss. If only Marquette could hit a few threes to finish the job. Instead, they finished an anemic 3-of-24 from beyond the arc.
In short, Buzz Williams' team had done just about everything he wanted them to do, with the exception of putting the ball in the hoop. In the second half, the Golden Eagles couldn't hit water from a boat and finished with just 12 made baskets for the entire game. Let that number ferment for a minute.
Clearly, no team can win with shooting 22.6% for the game, but for keen eyes, Buzz Williams provided a blueprint for success against The ‘Cuse.
Think Syracuse's zone is vulnerable? Play SnapCall Sports' during the Final Four next weekend to find out!