Syracuse’s full-court zone press is paying off

first_imgKadiatou Sissoko and Tiana Mangakahia swarmed Melissa Dailey, preventing the North Dakota guard from seeing the rest of the court. Panicking, Dailey attempted a pass toward the opposite side of the court, but it was tipped and picked off by Gabrielle Cooper, who immediately shuffled the ball to Mangakahia.Just as quickly as Mangakahia caught the ball, it was out of her hands, off to Sissoko, streaking down the middle. The freshman converted the fastbreak layup, finishing a sequence that lasted just four seconds.Sparked by a full-court zone press, traps and ensuing scores have become commonplace for No. 12 Syracuse (6-1). A year after sitting in the middle of the pack in the Atlantic Coast Conference with just under 8.3 steals a game, the Orange now average 10.4 and have 73 on the season, a mark that’s good for 21st in the country. While last season Syracuse utilized a man-to-man press more often than not, newcomers this season have allowed SU to break out more zone pressure.“We have so much length,” SU head coach Quentin Hillsman said. “We’re not having to go out and really press up man-to-man full court now because we can really keep the ball in front of us with our size and our length.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textLaura Angle | Digital Design EditorOne of the players giving Syracuse added size this season is Sissoko, a six-foot-two forward out of Paris.With two steals against North Dakota, Sissoko’s length allows her to cut off passing lanes and gaps in the floor easily. But the learning curve for Sissoko with the zone press has been steeper than that of her teammates’ because of her past experience with full-court pressure. She’d never been part of a zone full-court press before coming to Syracuse, where she has thrived in Hillsman’s defensive system.“It’s different than France, where you’re used to playing man-to-man defense,” Sissoko said. “In this press, we need to be on the gap, we need to wait for the player to dribble the ball to come and trap the ball, so I wasn’t used to it.”Despite being the second-tallest player on the team, Sissoko’s athleticism lets her defend guards without a problem. Normally, she stations at the top of the press with SU’s guards flanked behind and beside her. When she spots an opportunity to trap, she attacks the ball-handler along with the Orange’s nearest guard.This often flusters the opposing guard and leaves her no choice but to pass the ball away. But because of Sissoko’s length, the pass has to be thrown high, not directly to a teammate. When the pass is floated up into the air, other Syracuse players have more time to run underneath and intercept it. This often turns into fast-break points, like the play against North Dakota.Both Cooper and Sissoko agree that the zone press look with the freshman at the top is SU’s most effective. While Cooper is the longest-tenured member of Syracuse’s starting lineup, Sissoko is part of SU’s bench unit, which is playing a more significant role for the Orange this season.Paul Schlesinger | Staff PhotographerOnly two players played 10 minutes or more off the bench last year, forcing the starters to take on most of the load on the court. This season, Syracuse features five players off the bench that average double-digit minutes. Instead of the starters having to press for most of the game, their backups provide a similar intensity defensively.“When you know that you have a sub coming in after so many possessions, you’re in a position where you’re like ‘okay, I can go hard these three four possessions, coach is gonna come get me,’” Cooper said.While SU has been somewhat selective with its press this year, partially due to playing three of the best point guards in the country, its early success is already apparent. As the Orange gear up for the second half of their nonconference schedule, they’ll hope to further improve the up-tempo defense.“I think that our players are plenty capable of pressing more,” Hillsman said. “We probably will end up pressing a little bit more as the season goes on … It’s been great.” Published on November 27, 2018 at 9:52 pm Contact Eric: [email protected] | @esblack34 Facebook Twitter Google+center_img Commentslast_img

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