Jim Boeheim's teams at Syracuse have thrived on their zone defense for decades, using long, athletic players to disrupt opposing offenses to the tune of more than 900 wins and a national title.
Cal coach Mike Montgomery has been more of a proponent of man-to-man defense during his stellar coaching career, using the zone more as an occasional changeup than a base defense.
Montgomery has even jokingly mocked his friend, Boeheim, over the years for his reliance on the 2-3 zone.
So Boeheim got a piece of vindication when he saw the 12th-seeded Bears stay almost exclusively in a zone defense in a win over UNLV on Thursday that set up a matchup with No. 4 seed Syracuse in the third round of the NCAA Tournament today.
"He's a man-to-man coach, he always has been," Boeheim said Friday. "But I've always said if you don't have some zone just in your pocket, I don't think you're smart. For a long time there were a lot of coaches that weren't very smart. But now most of them I guess are because pretty much everybody has some zone."
Few teams have played it better over the years than the Orange. Boeheim recruits big, athletic wing players who can close out quickly on shooters, and the players are so well-versed in the defense because they rarely play, or practice, anything else.
This year's squad has been one of Boeheim's best defensively, with the Orange ranking third in the nation in field goal defense (37 percent) and 10th in three-point defense (29 percent).
"They know exactly what they're trying to do," Montgomery said. "They know exactly what the rules are as far as where they're not going to let the ball go and why. It makes it very effective. When you do something 35 times a year, 40 minutes a game for 30 years, somebody has got it figured out. And they've been successful with it."
The defense has been a staple all season for the Orange, which overcame a rough patch in February against a brutal Big East schedule to play perhaps its best basketball of the season during the tournaments in March.
As well as the Orange played in Thursday's opener (thumping Montana by nearly 50 points), its players know they will have to contend with a lot more against the Bears, including what is expected to be a partisan crowd in San Jose.
The hometown fans and zone defense helped pull Cal to a 64-61 win Thursday over fifth-seeded UNLV. It should be even louder today with a trip to the East Regional semifinals in Washington, D.C., on the line.
Arizona State falls to Baylor in NIT
Pierre Jackson had 26 points and 16 assists to lead Baylor to an 89-86 win over Arizona State in the second round of the NIT in Waco, Texas. Carrick Felix finished with 23 points for Arizona State.
In Iowa City, Iowa, Roy Devyn Marble scored 28 points to lead Iowa to a 75-63 win over Stony Brook in other second-round action.