Oklahoma City A zone defense doesn’t seem all that menacing to Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin, even if it is the one Jim Boeheim has used in leading Syracuse to such great success all these years.
In fact, Griffin doesn’t think Orange’s famed 2-3 zone will be any better at keeping the Sooners from scoring than a man-to-man defense — if they play smart.
“As long as you pick and choose your spots well and find open areas, and your guards get you the ball in the right spot, it might be easier,” said Griffin, the Sooners’ 6-foot-9 double-double machine and the nation’s top rebounder.
It might help that Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel has picked up some of Boeheim’s secrets.
Starting out as a young coach, Capel came from a man-to-man background — first from his father, a former coach at Old Dominion, and then from Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. So when he wanted to learn about the zone, he turned to Boeheim — or at least the videotapes he made.
“At Duke, we probably played four possessions of zone in four years when I was there. I didn’t have a lot of time as an assistant coach, and so I knew some zone was something I wanted to (do), so I got those tapes and I watched them,” said Capel, in his seventh year as a college coach and his third at Oklahoma.
“We actually took a couple of things that he talked about (that) hurt their zones and we added that in our zone offense.”
The real test comes Friday night when the second-seeded Sooners (29-5) face Boeheim’s third-seeded Orange (28-9) in an NCAA Tournament regional semifinal in Memphis, Tenn.
“You’re going against the architect of it, so I don’t know much it will help us now,” Capel said.
A key will be how well Oklahoma’s guards — who were hit-and-miss as the Sooners lost four of six heading into the NCAA tournament — can handle the zone, make outside shots and complement Griffin’s inside presence.
Austin Johnson, Tony Crocker and Willie Warren all have proven at times this season that they can be legitimate threats from three-point range, and each one has had an occasional 20-point game. How well they solve the 2-3 could go far in determining how much room Griffin, who is averaging 22.5 points and 14.4 rebounds, has to operate inside.