‘Cuse Asserts Long Arm Jurisdiction

First year law students taking civil procedure are soon introduced to the concept of long arm jurisdiction. This is the doctrine under which a plaintiff in his home state can sue and serve a defendant residing in another state for a cause of action arising in or with sufficient contacts with the home state.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is not a law school professor (though he looks like one); but just as the Courts have expanded their reach against out of state defendants, Boeheim has recruited tall, lean, and long-armed defenders to extend the reach and effectiveness of his 2-3 zone. The 2-3 has been the Orange’s trademark defensive tactic for most of Boeheim’s 30 year reign as ‘Cuse coach, but never has it been so smothering, suffocating, and stifling (pick your adjective) as in the just-concluded NCAA East Regionals at Verizon Center.

Indeed, the Orange defense performed at historic levels during ‘Cuse’s four-game run to the final quartet. Syracuse averaged 6.5 blocks and 10.8 steals while forcing opponents into 29% fg% and 15% from 3-point land. It held Montana (34), Indiana (50), and Marquette (39) to season low point totals. Against Indiana, one of the nations’s most skillful offenses (78.5 ppg), the Orange blocked 10 shots and forced 19 turnovers. Marquette could get nothing going en route to a record low for a team in an NCAA regional final since the shot clock was introduced in 1986.

Through four games, Syracuse has forced more turnovers than it has allowed field goals.

When you struggle to get your shot off, and are frequently blocked or stripped, you’re going to get beaten like a drum. “We couldn’t get one to drop from up close, We couldn’t get one to drop from outside,” said Marquette’s Jamil Wilson. That about sums it up.

College coaches normally employ the zone to cope with bigger, stronger opponents with whom they do not match up man-to-man. But for Boeheim, it is the weapon of choice. And now all the elements are in place. “We’re very long, and we’re very active,” said Boeheim, and “we can be hard to score on.”

At the top of the zone are 6-6 Michael Carter-Williams and 6-5 Brandon Triche. Carter-Williams has a baby face, arms like an octopus, and the guile of a cat burglar. He is among the nation’s leaders in steals, assists, and turnovers. During the regular season, his brilliance was often undermined by ill-timed forays to the hoop, a sub-40 shooting percentage, and sub-30 accuracy from 3-point land. But in the tournament, he has reduced his turnovers and shot the rock from both distances at just under 50%. He is capable of providing highlight reels on the dish or on the dunk.

Triche is a rarity at his position – a four-year starter, first as a point guard and now as a shooting guard. He’s started more games (146) than any Syracuse player. His uncle, Howard Triche, played for Syracuse in the late 80′s and Brandon looks and plays like his uncle. Steady but not spectacular, with the same bushy hair. Most of the time, MCW and Triche tower over their opponents at guard. Against Indiana, they overwhelmed 5-10 Yogi Ferrell and 6′ Jordan Hulls. It was more of the same against Marquette, which started the smallish Vander Blue and Junior Cadougan in the backcourt. “They cover ground really good,” said Blue.

Yogi Ferrell trapped by Syracuse zone.

The back end of the zone is manned by C.J. Fair and James Southerland. Both are in the Syracuse mold – 6-8, 215 – with near 7′ wing spans and the body fat of a parakeet. Fair is Syracuse’s most talented offensive player. A lefty, he can score on drives, dinks, finger rolls, and jumpers. Southerland can kill you with the 3-ball. At center is either Rakeem Christmas or Baye Keita. Syracuse runs no offense for either, but they are effective at protecting the basket. The first sub is Jerami Grant, 6-8, 205, with arms from here to there.

When the Syracuse zone is on all cylinders, you cannot beat it off the dribble, and you cannot beat it side-to-side. One theory, employed successfully by Georgetown in its dismantlings of Syracuse 2/23/13 and in the Big East regular season finale at Verizon Center 3/2/13, is to flash a versatile, good-shooting big man to the area between the top of the circle and the foul line where he can turn and shoot or kick it back for an open three. Georgetown picked Syracuse’s zone apart. But not every team has Otto Porter to play that role.

Anyone who saw Syracuse on March 2 has to be shocked at the turnaround. Three weeks to the day after they were held to 39 against Georgetown, they held Marquette to the same number on the same floor in the regional finals. Even for Team Turmoil, the reversal of fortune is startling.

Nobody accumulates talent like Syracuse, and nobody loses more of it to academic suspensions and/or the NBA. Last year’s Fab Melo affair is a case in point. Had the 7″ shot-blocking Melo been available, the Orange might have won the national championship a year ago. Instead, Melo couldn’t find his way to class, was suspended, and then bolted to the NBA. He plays now for the Maine Red Claws in the Developmental League.

Southerland missed several games this season on academic probation. In recent years, Dion Waiters, Wes Johnson, Donte Green, and Jonny Flynn left school just when they were getting started. The Bernie Fein episode is still an open wound, and just last week it was revealed that Syracuse is being investigated by the NCAA for serious violations in its basketball program.

But there are no character flaws in the current group. Carter-Williams and Triche, in particular, have been exemplary teammates and great interviews. And Syracuse takes a full head of steam into Saturday’s semi-final match with Michigan, which has endured a season of ups and downs similar to Syracuse’s. Both teams were ranked in the top five early – Michigan briefly at number one – and suffered a string of late season losses against tough conference opponents which reduced them to four seeds in the tournament. This will be the first time two four seeds have met in the Final Four.

More importantly, Michigan is the most efficient offensive team in the country, according to basketball savant Ken Pomeroy’s rating system, and has the ingredients to counter the Syracuse zone – the nation’s best point guard (Trey Burke), the nation’s best young center in freshman Mitch McGary, and a sharpshooter in freshman Nick Stauskas. Burke has been phenomenal all season, but McGary’s late-season surge has changed the character of the team.

Through the first 33 games of the season, McGary averaged 6.5 points and 6 rebounds. In the last four, he weighed in at 14 and 11.5, including 25 and 14 against Kansas in the Sweet 16. His 11 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 steals spurred the Wolverines in their rout of Florida on Sunday. Michigan has its Otto Porter.

Stauskas, a freshman from Canada, also broke out against Florida. He became the first player in tournament history to go six for six from 3-point land. Filling out the starting five are descendants of NBA royalty – Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Glenn Robinson III. They have not dishonored the family name.

Syracuse’s offense relies in significant part on fast breaks triggered by turnovers. They are not a good shooting team in the halfcourt. Where does that leave the Orange if they cannot turn Trey Burke over?

Neither team can afford foul trouble. Michigan cannot survive if McGary is forced to the bench, and Syracuse needs to get full contributions from Fair and Southerland, including at least four or five 3-balls. In a close game, Syracuse’s difficulties from the foul line could be problematic.

If Michigan coach John Beilein solves the Syracuse zone, it will be a case of first impression. In eleven previous tries against the Orange while coaching West Virginia, Beilein is winless.

But the guess here is that Beilein’s losing skein ends, and that Michigan advances to the finals against the winner of Louisville-Wichita State.

Even long arm jurisdiction has its limits.

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