Tudor: Vermont's zone humbles Heels

ctudor@newsobserver.comMarch 16, 2012 

— North Carolina got a long, annoying look at a zone defense Friday against Vermont.

Another one is waiting in the wings against Creighton in Sunday’s NCAA game at Greensboro Coliseum.

The Tar Heels, now 30-5 and seeded No. 1 in the Midwest Regional, eventually pulled away from Vermont (24-12) for a 77-58 win.

“But it wasn’t easy at all,” as Tar Heel all-American center Tyler Zeller said. “They did a great job of doubling down in the post and picking up fast on the perimeter. That had a real good defensive plan, so give them credit.”

So effective was the zone that Carolina shot only 41.5 percent and much of that was the result of point-black follow shots. Had it not been for a 13-point Carolina advantage on free throws (18-5), the 16th-seeded Catamounts would have been in position to pull off a Norfolk State-like shocker and squarely in the middle of Tobacco Road.

“They were tough, just tough,” said UNC guard Reggie Bullock. “Nothing came easy today.”

Thanks to playmaker Kendall Marshall’s ability to get inside the Vermont zone on a few occasions, the Heels weren’t put in a position of having to win it from the perimeter, where they missed 13 of 18 shots behind the 3-point line.

Marshall finished with 11 points and 10 assists _ a function of sheer determination to penetrate the zone.

“They made everything we tried to do difficult,” Marshall said.

No. 8 seed Creighton, 29-5 after a frantic 59-58 escape against Alabama in the first game, frequently plays a similar zone much like that of Vermont. It’s as though Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is orchestrating the entire operation as a defensive coordinator from afar.

“We thought that our zone might be able to throw them off guard for a while,” said Vermont forward Luke Apfeld. “They have so much talent, though.”

Vermont coach John Becker cited Marshall’s role.

“You take Marshall’s 4-for-4 (first half) and I think they were 8-for-25,” Becker said. “Our defense was really good there in the first half … then it got away us.”

Creighton’s zone held Alabama to 45.8 percent shooting even though the Tide hit seven 3-pointers and committed only nine turnovers for the game.

But the primary difference between Creighton’s zone and that of Vermont is as simple as quickness and size. The Blue Jays have an eight-player rotation and above-average rebounding.

On the plus side for Carolina is exposure, of course.

“I don’t think we’ve played two zone teams back to back, but it’s good for us that we saw this one today, I think,’’ Bullock said.

“You don’t see all that much zone in the ACC. Now, we’re going to see it a lot, but I think we can use what happened today. I think we’ll adjust better (Sunday).”

Another plus for the Heels on Sunday should be the return of John Henson, who was held out for the third straight game Friday.

Henson won’t sink any 3-pointers against the Blue Jays’ zone, but he will get some offensive follows. He’ll have to deal with the rust factor, but there’s no reason to think he’ll sit again.

With only 32 teams left in the chase, there will be no game-time decisions any longer.

Tudor: 919-829-8946

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service