The Buckeyes prepares for Syracuse and the ‘zone wizard’ in this Friday’s ACC-Big Ten Challenge game against Jim Boeheim and the Orange.
Columbus – Ohio State basketball coach Chris Holtmann put into perspective how long Jim Boeheim has sat on the Syracuse bench scowling and snarling at officials and players alike and, above all, winning like crazy on the Syracuse bench.
“He became a head coach at Syracuse when I was 5,’’ he said. “If that doesn’t speak to (his) quality and excellence, you just don’t see that anymore. That’s an incredible tenure.’’
Boeheim was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005, an honor that usually is bestowed on the retired. But he has just kept going and going. This is his 41st season.
Last season, he took a team that had to hustle just to get into the NCAA tournament to a 55-53 victory over Big Ten champion Michigan State and then all the way to the “Sweet 16.’’ It was the 32nd time he got the Orange into the tournament. He has got the team into the Final Four five times, including a national championship in 2003.
And Boeheim, 74, does it his way at the defensive end with a 2-3 zone defense that most players view as prehistoric.
Syracuse will bring the basketball version of football’s triple option to Value City Arena for an ACC-Big Ten Challenge game against the Buckeyes at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday. In that victory over Michigan State, the Orange 2-3 zone was so good that it forced 25.8 percentage shooting and 14 turnovers.
When Syracuse plays its defense just right, the players move their feet so quickly in basically putting up a blockade in the form of a double-team at every spot on the floor. The lineup ranges from 6 feet 6 to 7-feet-2, and it seems their arms are like Gumby’s.
“It’s frustrating because it’s 40 minutes of them just laying back and you have to guard them man at the other end,’’ said senior graduate transfer Keyshawn Woods, who played against the Orange when he was at Wake Forest. “They are right there in your face all the time. As long as we can get the ball into the middle, we’ll be fine. They sit back and wait for you to take bad shots and they also sit back and wait for you to turn the ball over.’’
What Syracuse does, Holtmann said, is try to throw teams off their rhythm and frustrate them into rushing shots.
“It’s like going to the dentist, and not just for a cleaning,’’ he said. “It’s 40 minutes of that and you have to be able to endure that and you’ve got to be able to weather that. If you go into a game believing it’s going to be a pretty game and you’re going to get your rhythm threes and time and space and will be able to wind up (and shoot), you don’t know what’s coming.’’
Why don’t opponents just shoot three-pointers from a little farther back?
That hasn’t worked all that well. Opponents are shooting 31.4 percent from three-point range and 38.9 percent overall.
“You get a lot of rushed looks,’’ Holtmann said.
He called Boeheim a “wizard’’ and “genius.’’
Syracuse, though, didn’t look good in a 83-76 loss against Connecticut and 80-65 loss against Oregon in the 2K Empire Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York. Its three victories have come against non-Power 5 teams Eastern Michigan, Morehead State and Colgate.
The web site Syracuse.com has pointed out that the Orange made the NCAA tournament one out of six times in the last 27 seasons when it lost three non-conference games.
Senior point guard Frank Howard did miss the first four games with a left ankle injury and played 9 minutes against Colgate.
The team could be without 7-2 senior center Paschal Chukwu because of a groin injury. He played four minutes against Colgate.
Ohio State junior guard Andre Wesson said Howard makes the Orange go.
“Just being at the top of the zone – he led their team in steals last year,’’ Wesson said. “He’s a bigger guard than we’re used to seeing. Offensively, he’s very aggressive and is their floor leader. He kind of gets the guys in the right spots and looks for his teammates and gets them going. He’s a very tough player and we have to be ready for him.’’
Holtmann said Syracuse is a different team when Howard is the lead guard. Junior Tyus Battle, a shooting guard, handled the point the first four games.
“He’s tremendous,’’ Holtmann said of Howard. “He steadies them and gets other guys involved. They obviously missed him when he was out. He’s great at creating his own shot.’’
Battle leads the Orange in scoring at 17.6 points per game, followed by 6-8 sophomore Oshae Brissett and 6-6 junior Elijah Hughes (14.8 each), 6-3 freshman Jalen Carey (9.4) and Chukwa and 6-10 sophomore Bourama Sidibe (5.2).
Woods said Battle is the No. 1 scoring threat for a reason.
“He’s versatile and very aggressive on offense,’’ Woods said. “He’s going to get his at the end of the day. He can score at all three levels. I’ve known through playing him in the ACC that he’s their go-to guy.’’
Ohio State is ranked No. 1 nationally in the NCAA Evaluation Tool or NET that measures teams’ strength of schedule and margin of victory. NET, which is replacing RPI or the Ratings Percentage Index, has been panned. Some have called it a disaster. For instance, one-loss Kentucky is No. 61.
Holtmann didn’t want to talk about being No. 1.
“People ask me about all kinds of numbers with this new, whatever it is, ranking,’’ he said. “The only numbers I’m concerned about is we’re (ranked) 136 in turnover percentage and 134, I think, in defensive rebounding percentage. Those numbers aren’t very good right now. They are symptomatic of a team that’s going to get us beat if we don’t do everything we can. We have to do a better job in those areas and we have to do a better job of coaching.’’
Andre Wesson agreed with the coach.
“We have to be more relentless on the boards and we have to take better care of the ball,’’ he said.