There is zone defense, then there is Syracuses zone.
N.C. State has seen plenty of the former this season, and the Wolfpack has improved against a variety of zones as the season has progressed, but the Wolfpack hasnt seen anything like the Oranges 2-3 zone.
Once the team gets there, N.C. State (16-8, 6-5 ACC) will get a first-hand look at No. 1 Syracuse (24-0, 11-0) Saturday at the Carrier Dome. The Wolfpack's flight to New York on Friday didn't happen. The team will fly north on Saturday afternoon, which has delayed the game until 7 p.m.
The Wolfpacks past two wins, at Miami last Saturday and at home against Wake Forest on Tuesday, came in successful games against zone defense.
Were seeing a lot of zone, N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said after the win against Wake Forest. There was a point earlier in the year where we really struggled against it. Were getting more confident against a zone.
That confidence is evident in the Wolfpacks outside shooting. N.C. State made eight 3-pointers in the 82-67 win against Wake and seven in the 56-55 win at Miami.
The Wolfpack still ranks 338th nationally in 3-pointers made and 332nd in 3-point percentage, but the improvement is noticeable. Gottfried said the 3s are only part of the equation for his teams improvement.
The ball is moving better. Were getting it inside the zone and moving it out, Gottfried said.
N.C. State has come a long way since an 82-72 overtime loss to N.C. Central. The Wolfpack settled for too many 3s (20) against the Eagles and took too many contested shots.
Against Wake Forest, point guard Cat Barber, who has struggled at times with shot selection, made two of his four 3-pointers and all were open shots.
Sophomore forward T.J. Warren has made the biggest jump from beyond the arc. Warren, who made three 3s Tuesday, made 10 of his last 18 attempts from the 3-point line.
We did a better job executing against the zone, Warren said. Everybody was sharing the ball, playing with emotion and having fun.
But most teams, like Wake Forest, use zone as a change of pace and to make a team like N.C. State, which does not rely on the 3-pointer, beat them from the outside.
For Syracuse and hall-of-fame coach Jim Boeheim, zone defense is a way of life. Boeheim recruits length to play the back end of his zone and bother perimeter shooters.
Syracuse doubles and traps the ball within its zone principles, which makes it different for teams who go to zone to force outside shots.
Hakim Warrick, who was built like Plastic Man and famously blocked the last shot by Kansas in the 2003 national title game, was the modern prototype for Boeheims big men. The coach has rolled out one long-armed forward after another in the decade since, with Rakeem Christmas and Baye Moussa Keita the latest models.
The twist to this Orange team, which is coming off a dramatic last-second win at Pittsburgh on Wednesday, has been the defensive ability of its guards.
Freshman point guard Tyler Ennis, the hero Wednesday after beating Pitt with a last-second 3, leads the ACC in steals (52 in 24 games) and shooting guard Trevor Cooney ranks second with 51.
N.C. State junior Ralston Turner, who leads the team with 47 3-pointers, realizes Syracuse represents a unique challenge.
Weve gotten a little better, Turner said. At the same, we have to keep getting better.