Syracuse’s two-three zone makes it a threat even as its offense struggles

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Cal coach Mike Montgomery is shrewd enough to know the components a team must have to find success against Syracuse's vaunted two-three zone.

He's also self-aware enough to know his team had none of them.

"If you have three really good perimeter shooters, you might be able to beat the zone that way," Montgomery said. "If you have really good interior post passing, that's going to cause them problems. We have neither of those."

The effectiveness of Syracuse's zone was the difference in its 66-60 round of 32 victory Saturday night. Unable to either break down the zone from the high post or sink enough shots from behind the arc, the Bears shot 39.3 percent from the field, sank only 4 of 21 3-pointers and trailed by double figures most of the game.

Cal tried to watch film of its most recent game against Syracuse and see what it could glean from that loss, but Montgomery acknowledged it was "impossible" to simulate for the Bears in practice.

Pac-12 player of the year Allen Crabbe was unable to make much impact in what may be his final game in a Cal jersey, scoring only eight points on 3 of 9 shooting. Fellow guard Justin Cobbs also struggled, sinking only 2 of 9 shots and finishing with five points, four assists and four turnovers.

"Our defense was as good as you could ask it to be for a long time tonight," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "I mean they weren't getting shots.

"We really tried to do a good job on Cobbs and Crabbe. Those were the two guys we really wanted to guard."

It's a good thing for Syracuse that it was that good on defense because it's offense remains largely uninspiring.

Point guard Michael Carter-Williams continues to be careless with the basketball, guard Brandon Triche's outside shot was largely off target and scoring from the frontcourt is mostly via put-backs rather than low-post offense. The result was 39.1 percent shooting on Saturday night, good enough to beat Cal but probably not enough to get Syracuse to Atlanta.

Up next for Syracuse will probably be top seed Indiana, barring an upset loss to Temple on Sunday. Unlike Cal, the Hoosiers have the components to beat a quality zone — from top-notch shooters to forwards who can flash to the high post and either score or make plays for their teammates.

Those components would give Indiana a far better chance than Cal to beat the zone, but Montgomery said it's enough of a weapon to make Syracuse a Final Four threat in spite of its offensive woes.

"It's really unique," Montgomery said. "Obviously in the Big East, people play against them and they've seen it. Their coaches have played against it for five years. They know what it is but I think on the first blush, it's going to cause you some problems. You have to have guards who can pass it there and bigs who can catch and make good decisions. That's not necessarily what we have."

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