Year after year, either because they're teams were already out of the tournament or never got in, Boeheim and John Chaney, who coached Temple back in the day, would sit in the stands at games and wonder what they were doing wrong. When he wasn't courtside covering a game himself, AP college basketball writer Jim O'Connell would go over occasionally and join them.
He remembers the conversation often revolving around zone defenses — both Boeheim and Chaney were throwbacks that way — and why this team or that was still playing, when they couldn't stop an usher from scoring if he wandered down from the seats and onto the floor, then happened to catch the ball in the paint.
All these years later Boeheim is one of the winningest coaches in the game and still the only one who uses a 2-3 zone full-time. That's why O'Connell thinks he'll beat Ohio State.
"In the NBA, it's man-to-man defense all the time and college guys who want to get there hate playing zone. They think it's a waste of their time. Plus it's harder to teach than people think," he said.
"Boeheim's a genius that way. He recruits guys with big wingspans — look at the three guys on the baseline for Syracuse; when their arms are stretched, they practically reach baseline to baseline standing in one spot. If you don't think that gets into an opponent's head, ask Ohio State at the end tonight.
Coaches call players like that "long," and they're desirable as recruits go. But somebody has to put the ball in the basket on other end, too. Boeheim's real genius was convincing the few McDonald's All-Americans he was able to recruit early on that defense was more than the time that elapsed between their last shot and the next. Now he's got it all, and a better seat for games in the bargain.
STAT OF THE DAY
Since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 there have been a number of longshots that have made it to the Elite Eight, but taking that next step to the Final Four is another story. On Saturday, No. 7 Florida will face No. 4 Louisville looking to become the first 7 seed to ever advance to the Final Four since the field expanded to 64. No. 7 seeds are 0-6 in Elite Eight games since then, yet, over the same period, No. 8 seeds are 4-3 and No. 11 seeds 3-2. No. 9 and No. 10 seeds, on the other hand, are a combined 0-8.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
"It's always funny to me. I never hear anybody yelling at Mike Krzyzewski to go back and play zone. Why is that? He's such a good coach, you don't question him? Is that what that is? Really? Somebody shook their head down here. Okay, that means I'm not a good coach, so you can question me." Boeheim replying to a question about whether his faith in zone defense was "unshakeable."
At The Georgia Dome
Baylor 75, Xavier 70
Kentucky 102, Indiana 90
At Edward Jones Dome
North Carolina 73, Ohio 65, OT
Kansas 60, N.C. State 57
At US Airways Center
Louisville (29-9) vs. Florida (26-10), 4:30 p.m.
At TD Garden
Syracuse (34-2) vs. Ohio State (30-7), 7:05 p.m.
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