Mike Woodson saw many defensive schemes in his 22 years of coaching in the NBA, but rarely a zone.
“I don’t see a lot of the zones in the NBA, so this is new for me and I’m just kind of navigating my way through,” said the first-year college coach on Tuesday night after Jackson State threw a zone his way.
The Hoosiers started the game facing man-to-man defense in the 70-35 win over Jackson St. However, as Indiana started to find their rhythm offensively, the Tigers switched to a zone variant Woodson referred to as a 1-2-2 matchup.
The adjustment paid dividends for the Tigers. The Hoosiers passed around the perimeter looking for answers but could not figure it out. They went on a five-minute scoring drought.
This was the first zone look the Hoosiers had seen for an extended period this season, and, for the early moments, they struggled.
“I thought for the most part we executed pretty well in the zone,” Woodson said. “We were stagnant early until I made the — called the time out and made the change. Then we kind of went over at halftime and they didn’t come back to it after we made a few buckets.”
The mad scientist immediately went to work to find an equation for the puzzling zone. And, he came up with one. The solution would be to “overload” the offense.
The overload Indiana went with involved a player on the baseline beyond the three-point arc, and two big men in the paint area on the same side of the floor, one on the block and the other on the elbow. The point guard brought the ball to the wing on the same side, leaving the fifth player alone.
The Hoosiers were able to use Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson as the post players, and using two big men who can create plays with the ball made the Tigers focus their attention on them. This allowed for open looks for threes and occasional alley-oops once the ball was entered to the high post and the weak-side defender was forced to decide who he would cover.
“I think it took us a couple possessions to figure it out, but after that we just wanted to move and get some obviously open looks and get the ball in the middle of the zone and make plays from there,” forward Miller Kopp said.
“We felt like if we get the ball there we could get lobs and kick-outs and would be able to make plays from there.”
The Hoosiers executed the offensive strategy to perfection coming out of the timeout. After swinging the ball around, Thompson finally got it at the elbow. He quickly threw a pass to a wide-open Parker Stewart who nailed the three. That was just one of the many open looks they managed against the zone and one of the six threes they hit on the night.
“Movement and ball penetration really helped us against the zone, and late in the second half I think I drove it out Miller and I saw that he was just kept being wide open, they was leaving him wide open. That created more scoring opportunities,” said point guard Xavier Johnson.
Figuring out and growing accustomed to some basic concepts against a zone could come in handy.
The Hoosiers play the Syracuse Orange next week in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.
For 46 years, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim has puzzled opponents with his well executed 2-3 zone. It is a staple of their program and led them to an NCAA Championship in 2003 under Boeheim.
There is a myriad of ways to attack the Syracuse zone including overloads, screens, dribble penetration and passes into the high-post.
While Jackson State didn’t have the precision, length or athletes IU will see next week in Syracuse, and they played a little different style, the exposure to a zone this week should still benefit Woodson and his staff as they “navigate their way through.”
What also won’t hurt — this will be the eighth time former Pitt point guard Xavier Johnson has faced the Orange.
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