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Playbook: Wake Forest vs Illinois

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A look at the 2-3 zone

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Deacs came up B1G (get it?) in a win over Illinois this week, and one of the reasons was the 2-3 matchup zone. Wake Forest held Illinois to 24-62 shooting (38%) and forced 19 turnovers through the use of the zone, so I figured its time we take a look at some of its strengths and weakness throughout the game.

Strengths

The #1 biggest strength of our 2-3 matchup zone, in my opinion, is that it leaves our center under the goal. This means that 7-1 Doral Moore can protect the paint and not be running around at the 3-point line trying the hedge on screens. Here’s a great example of this: a crucial possession with the Deacs up 4 with 40 seconds left in the game. Illinois tries to get it inside to Kipper Nichols, who turns and runs right into a brick wall made by Doral Moore.

The zone also helps cut down on the dribble penetration. The Deacs have struggled to keep guys in front of them on the defensive end, which has often lead to layups and kick-outs for wide open 3s. This is much harder to accomplish with Doral Moore or Olivier Sarr standing in the paint.

Above, Aaron Jordan drives into the lane where Moore is waiting. Jordan clearly decides against trying to score over the impressive frame of Moore, picks up his dribble, and travels. Moore causes this turnover just by being in the lane and scaring away shots.

Again we see Moore standing in the lane and cutting off a drive attempt by blocking the shot. Moore did a great job against Illinois of defending without fouling.

Aside from defending the paint, this also goes to help Moore from getting fatigued quickly; Doral was able to play an astonishing 32 minutes against the Illini. Bottom line: keeping Doral in the paint is definitely a good idea.

Another strength of this zone is forcing tough midrange shots. When the guards extend out to defend the 3-point line, there is a hole in the zone between the guards and the bigs. Illinois attacked this space in the middle of the zone a lot.

Nichols makes the shot above, but he’s got Doral Moore right in his face. If you can force your opponent to shoot contested midrange jumpers the whole game, it will typically come out in your favor. As the game progressed, Illinois continued to throw up brick after brick from midrange, leading to their 38% shooting percentage.

Leron Black, who was shooting 58% from the floor before Tuesday night, went 3-12 (25%) for the game. Here’s a look at his shot chart:

Kipper Nichols shot a similar percentage on the same shots as Black, going 4-11 (36%). Here’s a look at his shot chart:

My point here is that both guys shot plenty of contested jump shots, and went a combined 7-23 (30%). That’s a big win for the Deacs.

Weaknesses

While the zone probably helped to beat Illinois, it was far from perfect. The biggest weakness I have seen thus far in our zone is that we struggle to rebound. The Deacs got out-rebounded 39-25 and allowed Illinois to pull down 17 offensive rebounds. That means that Illinois was able to rebound 17 of their 38 misses, which is a rate of almost 50%. That is definitely not something you can do many times and come away with a win.

The second weakness is just a weakness of zones in general: 3-point shooting. All a team really has to do to get a good look from 3 is overload one side of the zone with more players than the defense has on that side and move the ball quickly.

This is just a trade-off of playing zone; You stop penetration at the expense of giving up open looks from deep. The Illini, who aren’t great from deep, shot 42% from 3-point range against the Deacs. Against better shooting teams, zone will probably not be the way to go.

Lastly, the Deacs still had a few lapses that led to open layups.

In close game where every point counts, these types of mistakes can really hurt a team’s chances at getting a win.

Obviously they will want to cut down on these.

Overall, the zone was effective in this game as the Illini shot just 38% and our Deacs came away with the win. If Wake can improve on the glass, this zone could become our go to defense.