How Duke can beat the Syracuse zone


When Duke and Syracuse met on Feb. 1, Duke's offensive efficiency was the highest of any team against Syracuse this season.

Despite the overtime loss, the Blue Devils executed exceptionally well against the Syracuse 2-3 zone.

How did Duke execute so well on offense? By getting the ball into the high post.

When Duke flashed a player in the high post in its zone offense, not including offensive rebound putbacks, the Blue Devils scored more than a point per play and shot 43 percent.

When they didn't flash someone in the high post in their zone offense, they shot 0-for-7 and scored just one point on eight plays.

High post touches are key

If there is a single factor that appeared to most affect Duke's offensive efficiency, it's whether or not they got a touch in the high post.

Duke Zone Offense vs Syracuse
By High Post Touch or No Touch

Getting the ball into the middle of the Syracuse zone, even if it's just to move the defense temporarily, seems to be half the battle.

Duke's offense was more than three times as efficient when it got a touch in the high post compared to when it didn't. The Blue Devils shot 55 percent on plays that included a high post touch and 16 percent without a touch.

Four different Duke players flashed in the high post throughout the game -- Amile Jefferson, Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood and Marshall Plumlee.

Amile Jefferson

Jefferson was the most prevalent high-post flasher against Syracuse, accounting for 53 percent (31-of-58) of Duke's plays that included a high post flasher.

Duke Zone Offense vs Syracuse
With Amile Jefferson in High Post

Jefferson was aggressive in catching the ball in the high post, getting a touch on 68 percent of those plays. The Blue Devils shot 45 percent and scored 1.16 points per play when Jefferson was in the high post.

There was especially a huge difference in Duke's offense based on whether Jefferson got a touch when he was in the high post. The Duke offense was nearly four times as efficient when he got a touch compared to when he didn't. When Jefferson did get a touch, the Blue Devils shot 60 percent (12-of-20). When he didn't, they shot just 11 percent (1-of-9).

Marshall Plumlee

Plumlee was an x-factor in the high post. He had just seven plays there, but of the four players the Blue Devils flashed in the high post, they were most efficient with Plumlee. They shot 67 percent (4-of-6) on those plays.

Whether it was Jefferson or Plumlee in the high post, when they got a touch the Blue Devils shot 60 percent on those plays and scored more than 1.5 points per play.

Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood

Duke Zone Offense vs Syracuse
Based on High Post Flasher

Duke's zone offense was least efficient with Parker and Hood flashing in the high post, scoring less than a point per play. Combined, Duke shot 5-of-16 (31 percent) when Parker or Hood flashed and they got a high post touch on less than 50 percent of those plays.

Specifically, the Blue Devils were least efficient with Parker in the high post (0.56 points per play, 29 percent shooting), while Hood was the least effective in getting touches in the high post (36 percent of plays).