Syracuse basketball has long built its identity on defense, as head coach Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone has flummoxed opponents with its length, athleticism and schemes for several decades now. Five games into this season, the Orange again own an exceptional defense (sixth nationally, per KenPom) that is predicated on holding opponents to the lowest effective field goal percentage in college basketball (36.5% eFG) and the lowest three-point percentage in the nation (20.3% 3FG). Where this year’s team is different, however, is on the offensive end of the court. So far Boeheim’s club is taking over a third of its shots from behind the arc and scoring over a third of its points from there, something just one other Syracuse team of the last five years has done — his Final Four darlings from a season ago.
Boeheim recruits players that fit well into his defensive scheme — guys that are rangy and athletic enough to rotate quickly into gaps while running shooters off the three-point line, clog passing lanes and protect the paint. In many but not all cases, those players are not well-suited to become long-distance offensive threats. That is why versatile players such as Tyler Lydon can make all the difference for Boeheim’s teams. On the way to last year’s Final Four, Lydon averaged 1.8 blocks and 1.1 steals per game while spacing the floor on the other end to the tune of 41 percent shooting from three-point range. This season the sensational sophomore is at it again (1.4 BPG, 1.0 SPG, 50% 3FG) as the Orange have gotten off to a solid 4-1 start with the only loss coming at #20 South Carolina. Being able to defend at a very high level in the 2-3 zone while also providing a legitimate offensive threat is an invaluable asset for Boeheim’s team as the Orange run their system in the rugged ACC.