When you think about Syracuse, you automatically think about the zone. The Orange’s 2-3 zone defense has confounded opponents throughout Jim Boeheim’s tenure, and its uniqueness across the college basketball landscape makes it that much harder to prepare for. One of the keys to the zone is that there often appears to be holes, places for a team to look to operate with space. Instead, the length of the Syracuse defenders closes those holes quickly and converges on opponents with a tenacity that can make even the most seasoned teams struggle. This year’s Orange team, at least thus far, has operated as a sort of microcosm of its preferred method of defense. There appear to be weaknesses to exploit, and sometimes teams have had success doing so. But in the end, Syracuse, just as its vaunted 2-3 zone often does, has won, including hoisting this year’s Maui Invitational trophy on Wednesday.
Coming into the year, the team was concerned about replacing its perimeter core. Point guard Michael Carter-Williams, guard Brandon Triche and swingman James Southerland all left, either via graduation or early draft entry, leaving the team unseasoned on the outside. One of the keys was the development of shooting guard Trevor Cooney. Billed as a shooter coming out of high school, he’d failed to live up to expectations for the Orange early in his tenure. But Cooney has shown that he can explode at times, with a 27-point, seven three-pointer effort in the opener versus Cornell, five made triples against Minnesota in the opener of the Maui Invitational, and another 23 points against California in the semifinals of the same tourney. The problem is that at other times he’s been a non-factor, such as when he was 1-of-6 from the field in a win over Fordham or 1-of-5 from the arc against Colgate. Cooney’s consistent ability to stretch defenses with his perimeter game is a must for this team.