Syracuse men’s basketball is never out of a game because of its full-court press

first_img Published on March 2, 2017 at 10:51 pm Contact Paul: pmschwed@syr.edu | @pschweds Jim Boeheim isn’t afraid to let everyone in an arena know when his team is desperate, when he has no other choice but to change his defense.Then, he turns to the press.It propelled the Orange to the Final Four last year, overcoming a 14-point deficit with 10 minutes left in the Elite Eight. And it’s what has led to three comeback wins in the past month.“At that stage, you’re desperate. You’re just trying to fly around and make a play,” said Syracuse’s head coach. “It’s been at the end of games. … You’re down 10, it’s a desperation situation and you just try to make the play and make something happen. … There’s no other chance but to force a turnover.”The Orange (17-13, 9-8 Atlantic Coast) has trailed by double digits in eight straight games. Outside of a 20-point loss at then-No. 7 Louisville, the contests were decided by an average of 4.3 points and SU went 4-4 in the eight-game stretch. Even in the three games Syracuse lost, the press made it close.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textIn many ways, the full-court press salvaged the Orange’s entire season. Boeheim applies the tactic sparingly and knows a good team can figure out a way to beat it easily once it adjusts. But in short segments, SU has relied on the press to climb back into games in which it previously had no chance.“It catches (opponents) by surprise. They don’t expect it,” freshman forward Taurean Thompson said. “We don’t use it all game and then all of a sudden they take a breath. They’re not ready for it. I don’t think they prepare for it as much in practice.”At the start of the season, Boeheim said his team would likely press more because of the depth he had at his disposal. SU used it in nonconference play to test out what he had. Early on, his players didn’t execute the scheme to his standard.After a season-opening 28-point win over Colgate on Nov. 11, Boeheim said the press was horrendous.“I guess they can’t do it,” Boeheim said when asked why it was ineffective. “Why did Donald Trump become president? I don’t know.”A week and a half later, Boeheim explained Syracuse would need the press at some point later in the year. That’s why he was experimenting in games such as a 42-point win over South Carolina State. Even as late as 14 games into the year, Boeheim cited it as an area for concern. After a 15-point loss at Boston College, he described the press as something “we can’t do.”Two months later, the press is a key reason SU is still in the mix for an NCAA Tournament bid. Instead of playing the nine or 10 players like Boeheim expected, Syracuse uses only six or seven each game as a result of injuries. The starting lineup now consists of four first-year players and a sophomore. Once they meshed together, the press improved, too.Sophomore forward Tyler Lydon attributes the press’ success to the urgency with which he and his teammates play it. Tactically, not much changed from the full-court approach, graduate transfer Andrew White said. Except recently, Syracuse’s press is causing turnovers unlike in the beginning of the year.“I’m amazed at how effective it is and how infrequently they use it,” Pittsburgh head coach Kevin Stallings said. “I wish I could do that is what I’m trying to say.”With SU down 10 against North Carolina State late in the second half, Boeheim flipped to the press from his traditional 2-3 zone. The Orange forced four turnovers down the stretch, pushing the game into overtime and eventually winning.A week later, SU pressed with the same amount of time remaining against Clemson. The Tigers committed three late turnovers and Syracuse won at the buzzer.“They take away the primary pass, they get you in the corner, they take away the second pass to the guy taking it out, they take away the middle pass,” Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said. “You’ve got to attack it quickly or you’re going to be in trouble. It’s an outstanding press.”Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner said opponents can’t simulate it in practice. The Orange ranks as the 12th tallest team in the country, per Kenpom.com. As opponents try to play cautiously to protect leads, SU pounces when it should be squirming.Considering Syracuse’s short rotation, playing defense for 94 feet isn’t an option for more than a few minutes at a time. Lydon and White both have played every second in the Orange’s last 10 games. They can only go so far until fatigue sets in.But the infrequency with which Boeheim uses the press is part of what makes it so effective. In short spurts, it accomplishes what it needs to.SU’s hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament are dangling. But with only one regular-season game left and the ACC tournament remaining, the press is why Syracuse is never out of a game.“We work on it all the time. Every year,” Boeheim said before the season. “We work on our press every year a lot. Almost every practice. And some years we just don’t use it much at all and other years it’s been very important for us.”This year it has been the latter. Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more

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