When Duke takes the court on Friday night against Syracuse in the Sweet 16, it’s going to be a Game of Zones.
If you were to play word association, “Syracuse” would be the first thing on people’s minds referring to zone. Jim Boeheim has perfected his 2-3 scheme during over four decades at Syracuse.
However this season, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who almost exclusively has played man-to-man defense in his four decades, has taken a page out of his old pal’s playbook and added his own twist.
Krzyzewski began to pick Boeheim’s brain when the two were coaching Team USA from 2008-2016.
Flash forward to today and Duke has only allowed over 70 points once since Feb. 8. The switch was made after Duke struggled mightily playing man-to-man.
Boeheim is in complete admiration of how Krzyzewski has shaped a defensive scheme around the strengths of his players.
“He got an idea of how to run it and saw some of the things we do,” Boeheim said of how Krzyzewski picked it up. “And he’s adapted it to his personnel. I think they play it well, not like we do. They play it differently.
“His big guys really make it tough. They are more physical and stronger inside than we are. We’re used to playing it, we’ve practiced more with it. We try and cover the outside a lot more than they do.”
With the powerful interior duo of Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter, being able to score in the paint against Duke’s zone has been challenging for opponents.
Meanwhile, Duke’s offense will need to be crisp against a stingy Syracuse defense that’s held all three of its opponents (Arizona State 56, TCU 52, Michigan State 53) in the NCAA Tournament to under 60 points.
In this season’s first meeting, Duke defeated visiting Syracuse 60-44 on Feb. 24.
Duke ranks seventh in assists and fourth in rebounds nationally, so if they hold to those averages and continue to play strong defensively, the Elite Eight will definitely be within reach.
No. 2 seed Duke faces No. 11 seed Syracuse on March 23 at 9:37 p.m. (EST), with the matchup televised on CBS.