Boeheim known for zone, but ‘they beat us playing man-to-man,’ KU’s Bill Self recalls

By Gary Bedore

Most, but not all of Jim Boeheim’s 909 victories in 42 seasons at Syracuse, have been made possible because of the Orange’s simple, yet effective 2-3 zone defense.

“They beat us playing man-to-man,” KU coach Bill Self said Thursday, recalling his only head-to-head matchup against fellow Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer Boeheim.

Self’s Jayhawks fell to the Orange 89-81 in overtime in the championship game of the 2008 CBE Classic at the Sprint Center.

“They actually went man when we got up 12,” Self added, acknowledging it was that defense that sparked Syracuse to its Jonny Flynn-led victory.

One thing about Boeheim, whose 6-0 Orange will assuredly open in the zone in Saturday’s 4:30 p.m., Hoophall Miami Invitational game against the 6-0 Jayhawks at American Airlines Arena in Miami: he has never ruled out using man defense, albeit on rare occasion.

“Yeah, we might. Anything’s possible in this world,” the 73-year-old Boeheim said at ACC Media Day when asked about possibly using man in the 2017-18 season. “As far as it being boring, one of the things that people have not quite grasped yet (is) it’s much easier to teach zone defense than it is man-to-man. Everybody thinks that it’s hard to learn that. I can teach it to a high school team, junior high school team in about two hours. So I hope I can teach it to our guys in four weeks or so.

“But man-to-man is much more complicated, much harder to learn, many more different types of ways you play pick-and-rolls. There’s six different ways to play a pick-and-roll and different ways to switch, not switch. There’s so many different parts to man-to-man. Much harder to teach, much harder to learn. Much easier to learn how to play a zone. And our zone’s a little more complex, so it takes a little bit more than a couple of days, but not that much longer.”

Sparked by its trademark zone defense, Syracuse, which beat Maryland 72-70 at home Monday, has allowed 70 points just one time in six games. Opponents are averaging 59.7 points a game on 35.7 percent shooting.

Paschal Chukwu, a 7-foot-2 junior, is averaging three blocks per game and 6-10 freshman Bourama Sidibe 1.2 blocks per contest. Adding additional length to the zone are 6-9 freshman Marek Dolezaj (5.8 points per game, 6.8 rebounds per game) and 6-8 freshman Oshae Brissett (12.2 points and 9.8 boards). Guards Tyus Battle (6-6 sophomore) and Frank Howard (6-5, junior) have averaged 19.7 and 15.7 points per game, while adding quickness defensively up front.

“I think their zone is different now, and they’re playing higher on the floor now than what they did then (in 2008),” Self said. “We’ve played (against) Baylor’s zone. It’s not the same but certainly length is comparable. There’s been times in practice it looks like it’s easy. You get in a game, the same things you thought were open just don’t seem open. That’s difficult. No matter how well we perform in practice, it will be a different look once you get in the game.”

Billy Preston update

KU freshman forward Billy Preston, who has not played in a regular-season game as KU looks into the financial picture surrounding a vehicle he’s been driving on campus, will make the trip to Miami. But Self sounded as though he’s not expecting Preston to play against Syracuse.

“I haven’t talked to anybody today (in KU compliance). (We) visited about it yesterday,” Self said. “When you (reporters) say there’s no movement, that would probably be a false thing to say, if you just looked at it like it’s not like your car being towed and it’s just sitting over there. When you say there’s no movement, there’s no movement on conclusion. There’s certainly a movement on trying to do everything to get a quicker conclusion. I personally don’t see it happening in the next two days. We can be hopeful.”

Self said Preston is taking sitting out “very well. There is something bothering him. I mean, there’s no doubt about that. He’s not excited this is happening by any stretch, nor are we. But we know we’ve got to deal with it. He’s handled it very maturely. He’s been a good teammate.

“I think there has been some positives from that regard. Sometimes people can say that they’re adjusting, have a great attitude, which he does, but that still doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. Certainly that’s the case with him.”

Gary Bedore: 816-234-4068, @garybedore

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