Despite losing to St. John's 84-72 in December, Syracuse has bounced back to reach the NCAA Sweet Sixteen, where they will face the surging Gonzaga Bulldogs.
In that game, Chris Mullin's team - a squad that won only one of their next 24 games to end the season - opened up a can of buckets, going 12/24 from beyond the arc, playing good defense and winning despite shooting 60% from the free throw line.
Since the Johnnies were particularly vulnerable to man defenses, we can conclude that Mullin and his staff had a very good plan against that Syracuse zone.
Because more than their talent or their offense, Syracuse opponents worry about the Syracuse Orange zone.
To be fair, there is good reason - Jim Boeheim's zone look has powered the Orange to a top-25 defense (by KenPom's adjusted metrics). That zone is holding teams to 48% shooting inside the arc, which is decent, and a spectacular 30% outside the arc.
The real magic?
Syracuse is forcing opponents to shoot from beyond the arc. Opponents take 40% of their shots from distance, are hitting 30% of those shots, and going away from what those teams want to do.
Most teams don't have the shooters or the willingness to deploy the shooters, Mullin thinks.
He spoke to Steve Serby of the NY Post about it.
"Really good shooters probably prefer playing against a zone but there’s not that many. Guys may knock down one, may knock down two, very rarely do you see a guy knock down three, four, five in a row....
"It puts pressure on you to shoot maybe early because sometimes the best shot’s an early shot," Mullin said. "As the clock’s running, that pressure starts building a little bit. Not only on each possession, but as the game wears on. All of a sudden, you’re playing that zone for 18 seconds, and then it puts more pressure on the offense to make a decision which shot’s good. So you need guys that really just want to shoot the ball, like no matter what. They got the confidence and the green light and let them go, and ultimately make them."
Confidence, attacking the defense quickly and being willing to shoot from outside the arc. Mullin has passed along his advice, Gonzaga.