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How will the Runnin’ Utes attack Washington’s 2-3 zone?

The Huskies come to the Huntsman Center with a revamped defense.

The 2-3 zone is coming to the Pac-12. While it was famously confined to a Dome in Central New York, the west coast is getting a taste with Mike Hopkins in Washington. The Laguna Hills, California native became so enamored with the quirky scheme that he devoted his life’s work to it and spent 21 years freezing with his curmudgeonly boss Jim Boeheim.

The Huskies come to the Huntsman Center playing a scheme that’s foreign to most college basketball teams – a 2-3 zone with man-to-man principles (h/t to the great Bill Raftery). The results are the league’s 5th best adjusted defense, 104th overall, according to by KenPom.com (Ahead of the LA schools, but behind Oregon, Arizona, Stanford, and Colorado).

While there are many great Hopkins-led explainers on the internet on the zone, the main objective is to prevent easy buckets at the rim. In doing so, the Dawgs force teams into risky passes that lead to steals and transition offense. It’s the Syracuse zone you know-and-hate from March Madness.

The 6-foot David Crisp and 6-foot-5 Matisse Thybulle play the top two, while the 6-foot-11 Sam Timmins provides the steel in the back. Thybulle has really been the standout. The Junior leads the Pac-12 Conference in steals with 3.0 per game, up from 2.1 last year. Thybulle baits opponents into passes. Coach Hopkins calls him the “Deion Sanders” of the defense.

For Utah to beat the zone, the Runnin’ Utes will need to gain entry into the high post. Their last game against USC offered a test to their zone offense. 

Though, Chris Seeley didn’t make the shot, this type of action collapses the defense to create open threes later on. Any freed up real estate for Sedrick Barefield and Justin Bibbins can go a long way.

Recreating the Syracuse/Washington zone is difficult. As a team, the Dawgs average 8.9 steals and 5.70 blocks per game, both league leading statistics. And it’s a misnomer to say the zone allows threes. The top two are driven to denying entry passes AND shots over the defense. Plus, the wings play higher in the SU/UW zone to deny those three-point shots.

This is where Tyler Rawson’s vision as a playmaker will be on full display. Here Rawson sees the pass to Jayce Johnson on the baseline.

Rawson puts his opposite big in a perfect situation. This pass is why he’s taken such a big jump in his second year on the hill. Finding this hole in the zone will open up options to the corner for threes or down the lane for the Seeley floater.

You can listen to the game tonight on ESPN 700 and ESPN700sports.com. Coverage starts at 7:00 with tip at 8:00. 


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