After seeing the scare Vanderbilt's zone defense put into Wisconsin over the final six minutes of last Saturday's game, the most daunting aspect of Thursday's meeting with top-seeded Syracuse is undoubtedly facing a zone defense for a full 40 minutes.
Though the catalyst to ths Syracuse defense -- 7'0" center Fab Melo -- will not play in this week's Sweet 16 tilt, the Orange have not only played the zone all year long, each player practices it every day of their career under Jim Boeheim.
To prepare the Badgers for the test, it's going to take a lot of film study by coaches and players alike in a short period of time. But it will also require a special effort from a specific group of Wisconsin players: the scout team.
How well can Wisconsin's bench simulate the Syracuse zone defense in practice against the regular rotation players?
Boeheim goes eight deep with the Orange roster in Melo's absence. Most of those players are generally accepted to be very athletic and have long arms, making that aggressive 2-3 matchup zone all the more effective. Syracuse ranks third in the nation in steals per game (9.4) and steal percentage (14.3%).
For what it's worth, Wisconsin is third in the country in fewest steals allowed per game (4.3).
I consider Bo Ryan to also typically use an 8-man rotation that includes the five starters plus Rob Wilson, Ben Brust and Frank Kaminsky. While the Badger bench is littered with less skilled players than Syracuse's starters, including shorter walk-on guards, there are some pieces the coaching staff can try to whip into zone defenders.
|Scoop Jardine||6'2"||195||George Marshall||5'11"||180|
|Brandon Triche||6'4"||205||Traevon Jackson||6'2"||215|
|Kris Joseph||6'7"||215||Zach Bohannon||6'6"||210|
|C.J. Fair||6'8"||212||Jarrod Uthoff||6'8"||200|
|Rakeem Christmas||6'9"||228||Evan Anderson||6'10"||260|
|Dion Waiters||6'4"||215||Dan Fahey||6'3"||195|
|James Southerland||6'8"||215||Duje Dukan||6'8"||205|
|Baye Keita||6'10"||215||Paul Grant (why not?)||7'0"||???|
Defensively, there are some shortcomings. While George Marshall is about as quick as anyone on the perimeter, UW's scout players cannot match the speed of Syracuse. I imagine Dan Fahey will be a bulldog in practice on D. But Marshall, Fahey and Trae Jackson lack height and length compared to the Syracuse guards.
However, in the frontcourt, the size and length of the reserves could be helpful. Six-foot-11 Evan Anderson is an ideal guy to let camp in the paint, be physical and block shots. In fact, he'd almost be a better simulation for Melo than Rakeem Christmas, but so be it. Jarrod Uthoff and Duje Dukan also have decent length and height on the wings, similar to what Syracuse will present. The strength and quickness will again be lacking though.
Offensively, James Southerland has been a huge spark for Syracuse in the tournament so far, averaging 15 ppg on 5-of-7 shooting from 3-point land. Wisconsin has a guy in Dukan with a good outside shooting touch that can approximate that weapon off the bench. Uthoff and Bohannon can both stroke threes as well. Scoring like Kris Joseph is a whole different matter, but these guys will be instructed to try their best.
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