College basketball Saturday: Duke-Syracuse could come down to outside shooting

Nate Shron

The Blue Devils will need to be able to play inside-out if they are going to crack Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone and give the Orange their first loss of the season.

One method to attacking the 2-3 zone, or most any zone, is using a "zonebuster" to stretch the defense beyond its breaking point. As Marshall Henderson once said, "Every team has a little white guy who can shoot threes."

However, ironically enough, the best potential "zonebuster" when Duke takes on Syracuse on Saturday will actually be on Jim Boeheim's Orange. Sophomore Trevor Cooney shoots 40 percent from deep, and isn't shy about hoisting 3's. He has taken 142 in conference play this season, tops in the ACC. That's almost half (46 percent) of total threes by the entire Syracuse team.

Duke doesn't rely as much on one player to let it loose from deep, instead relying on a plethora of shooters. Quinn Cook leads the way with 101, but two players could reach the century mark by the end of the game Saturday (Andre Dawkins 99, Rodney Hood 96). Star freshman Jabari Parker, meanwhile, has 76 tries from deep. The Blue Devils combine for the most three-point attempts in the ACC and are second the conference in percentage from deep at 42 percent.

Ken Pomeroy has noted that a team has very little impact on how well an opponent can shoot the ball from deep (there is the Boeheim exception). What a team can control is how many threes an opponent shoots. Duke opponents have attempted the fewest threes of anybody in the ACC, and it isn't even a particularly close margin. Blue Devil opponents have shot 85 threes all season long. Next-closest is Boston College at 108 followed by Clemson at 117.

When it comes to perimeter shooting, Duke is the best team in the country when factoring both offense and defense.

The Syracuse zone attacks differently than most zones because, well, it attacks, making the zonebusting strategy much more difficult. When the ball goes to a side, the entire defense overloads. One method to fighting an overloaded zone is utilizing skip passes. However, the problem with attempting those types of passes against the Orange is that they are always one of the longest and most athletic teams in the country.

Duke is going to have to get the ball inside to beat Syracuse. "They are a big, long team and the way to beat the zone is to get the ball in the middle," forward Amile Jefferson told the Herald Sun. "That’s something that we are working on and we are going to have to execute."

No. 14 Wisconsin vs. No. 24 Ohio State (noon ET ESPN)

If this had happened four weeks ago, it could have been a game featuring two of the top five teams in the entire country. Instead, Wisconsin has lost four of its last five while Ohio State has fallen in five of its last six. Things haven't gone particularly well for either team since, but a win would be a good way to get back on track for either team.

Ohio State suffered a tough road loss in overtime against Michigan State after battling back from a 17-point deficit and hasn't been the same since. They have lost to three teams -- Nebraska, Illinois and Penn State -- no one would consider as contenders in the Big 10.

The Badgers, meanwhile, may be coming off of the worst loss of their slide: a home loss to Northwestern.

No. 16 Iowa State vs. No. 23 Oklahoma (4 p.m. ESPN3)

Iowa State has lost four of its last five while Oklahoma has fought its way into Big 12 contention with four straight victories and a 6-2 record in the conference. Every loss suffered has been against a team currently ranked in the AP Top 25, which includes Saturday's opponent, the Sooners. There is no reason for the Cyclones to panic. Two losses to Kansas and falling on the road to Texas and Oklahoma are nothing to be ashamed of.

Oklahoma is coming off of its biggest win of the season, taking down Player of the Year contender Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State. Ryan Spangler had a career best with 17 rebounds, and chipped in 15 points as well. Spangler had five attempts from the line, part of 54 tries as a team versus only 24 attempts for the Cowboys.

In the Sooner win over the Cyclones earlier this season, Spangler grabbed 15 rebounds in what was his career high up until that point. Buddy Hield had 22 points on six threes. Iowa State shot 52 percent for the game, but it wasn't enough to beat the 18-21 free throw performance from the Sooners.

The rest of the Top 25

All times are ET

No. 3 Florida vs. Texas A&M (4 p.m. ESPN3)

No. 4 Wichita State vs. Evansville (3 p.m. ESPNU)

No. 5 San Diego State vs. Colorado State (7 p.m. ESPNU)

No. 25 Texas vs. No. 6 Kansas (4 p.m. ESPN)

Georgetown vs. No. 7 Michigan State (3 p.m. Fox Sports One)

Oklahoma State vs. Baylor (2 p.m. ESPN)

Temple vs. No. 9 Villanova (4 p.m. CBS Sports Network)

Missouri vs No. 11 Kentucky (1 p.m. CBS)

No. 12 Louisville vs. UCF (9 p.m. ESPNU)

No. 14 Wisconsin vs. No. 24 Ohio State (noon ESPN)

Illinois vs. No. 15 Iowa (7:30 Big Ten Network)

No. 16 Iowa State vs. No. 23 Oklahoma (4 p.m. ESPN3)

No. 19 Saint Louis vs. George Mason (2:30 NBC Sports Network)

Saint Josephs's vs. No. 21 Massachusetts (6 p.m. CBS Sports Network)

Southern Methodist vs. No. 22 Memphis (2 p.m. CBS Sports Network)

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