By Vin Parise
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After a controversial ending with the officials and game clock, St. John’s is moving on to battle Syracuse today for a trip to the Friday night semifinals. I had the chance to speak with the St. John’s coaching staff regarding the Syracuse scouting report and what they’ve been talking with their players about before the big game.

St. John’s Keys to the Game:

1. Zone Offense: No surprise with this one. Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone is a fixture in college basketball. They are extremely long on the perimeter and they really try to funnel you into difficult driving lanes.

The top two guards out of the zone rarely get split by the ball handler and the Orange communicate in this defense extremely well. One of Syracuse’s rules with their zone is for the center to take all passes just below the foul line area. That is the ‘sweet spot’ when you’re on offense. Sometimes the Orange get caught on this. The center has to step up and the other two defenders along the baseline must rotate to the inside and protect the basket.

If on offense you can get high-low action before this rotation, it’s usually a bucket. Look for St. John’s to attack the high post for this action. Secondly, the Johnnies must penetrate the gaps of the zone but not too deep. They have good guards off the dribble but if you get too deep, it’s like dribbling into a trap. And lastly, you have to simply make shots.

You can have the greatest zone offense in the world, but if you don’t put the ball in the basket you’re in trouble.

2. Rebounding: Rick Jackson was the first Orange player since Derrick Coleman in 1989 to lead the Big East in rebounding this season with 9.9 boards per game. Jackson was also named the Defensive Player of the Year. Battling him on the boards is crucial today for St. John’s.

Yes, guards are important vs Syracuse – but you better be ready to fight with their athletes along the baseline. All five guys for St. John’s needs to box out and secure defensive rebounds. The Johnnies can also pick up some offensive rebounding opportunities in the open areas of the zone.

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3. Defensive Transition: Obviously sprinting back and hustle are key components to good defensive transition. But the Johnnies have really been talking about their offensive possessions as well.

Good zone offense and shot selection are really going to be key to stopping the Orange fast break. If you take long and bad shots vs their zone, it’s probably going to lead to very long rebounds – and that’s when Syracuse is at its best. Boeheim preaches to his team that long rebounds serve as the outlet pass to ignite fast break points. Yes, you must sprint back, but St. John’s must have great shot selection as well.

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What is your key to St. John’s success against Syracuse? Post your thoughts in the comments below…


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