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The 2-3 zone takeover

HOUSTON — After the Villanova Wildcats were embarrassed by the Oklahoma Sooners on Dec. 7, 2015 (78-55), it seemed as if head coach Jay Wright and his squad had a sour taste from the devastating loss. During the rematch on April 2 between the two teams in the final four round of the NCAA tournament, it was Oklahoma who would be embarrassed as they lost 95-51, which was the largest margin of victory in tournament history.

Although hot shooting and scoring by the Wildcats spurred the victory, it was evident that the defense stole the win for Wright and Villanova.

Prior to the game against Oklahoma, it seemed as if Wright already knew every move that the Sooners were going to make. He made sure that his defense was absolutely prepared.

“We were so locked in defensively, locked into the scouting report,” guard Josh Hart said. “I think that’s just the mindset we came in with. Obviously we love when we can hit shots, but this program is really built on just dialing in defensively, being tough.”

The defense is set up in a 2-3 zone, but it is far more complex than the defender simply staying in an area. The zone defense, as Wright describes it, focuses on aggressiveness. He credits the strategy to advice he received from SMU head coach Larry Brown.

“Larry Brown convinced me to at least do it so you’re good enough that you can practice against it,” Wright said. “That started a few years ago when he was with us. We would use it in practice a lot.”

What was once something the team simply practiced became a package they crafted into their own. Most teams refrain from running the 2-3 zone because it creates laziness amongst defenders and allows offenses to shoot from beyond the 3-point range; however, Wright was able to implement aggression to the zone defense to make it work.

“As we did it in practice, I started to find ways we could still remain aggressive in it,” Wright said. “That’s why we’re using it now. It’s taken me a while to learn how we can be aggressive.”

When it came to guarding Oklahoma standout Buddy Heild, the Villanova defense was up to the challenge. Heild, who averaged nearly 29 points during the tournament, was held to only nine points in the game. The strategy that Wright had was continuously matching Heild up with different defenders to confuse him.

“We had everybody from Daniel Ochefu, our five man guarding him, Darryl Reynolds guarded him,” Wright said. “We did it so different, guys were chasing him, moving off the ball, we were giving him different looks.”

The entire Sooners team was stunted by the Wildcat’s defense, shooting 19 of 60. The Wildcats created 19 turnovers, which resulted in 31 points.

“We were just so dialed in,” Hart said. “We saw what they did to us in Pearl Harbor. We were dialed in defensively, ready to step up for each other. We were just so dialed in defensively.”

Joel Berry II of the Tar Heels even explained how impressive the victory was.

“I just think that even though they shot 71 percent, I mean, looking at the score, they had a great defensive game,” Berry II said. “That’s what you have to look at. Like I said, they shot 71 percent, but the defensive end, they were able to stop them, especially one of the best players in the country (Heild).”

Scouting the Tar Heels

While Oklahoma relied on their outside shooting, which Villanova was easily able to stop, North Carolina will bring a balanced attack on offense when they play Monday night, April 4.

Villanova’s big men, Daniel Ochefu and Kris Jenkins, will key on UNC standout Brice Johnson in the paint. Against Syracuse, Johnson put up 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds. The Wildcats only allowed 20 points in the paint and 11 second-chance points. They held OU’s big men, Kadeem Lattin and Ryan Spangler, to eight points combined.

From beyond the arc, North Carolina finally showed on Saturday, April 2, that they could drain 3-pointers against a 2-3 zone. Guard Marcus Paige knocked three 3-pointers against the Orange and expects to continue to attempt the deep shots against the Wildcats.

Looking back

In 1985, Villanova won the national championship as an eighth seed under head coach Rollie Massimino. The game was considered one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history.

“Those guys (players from the 1985 team) are really icons on our campus,” Wright said. “That whole team brings that magical underdog feeling, like anything’s possible. That’s really strong still at Villanova for all sports, but definitely in our basketball program.”

Now 31 years later, Wright and his squad are searching for the second title in program history.

“I think it would be different if we did it,” Wright said. “I want them to still be able to keep their magic on campus. They’re a special group of guys, too. They all stay connected to the school; they stay connected to each other. They’re a really special group of guys.”

Offense adds to the mix

After shooting 71.4 percent against Oklahoma, the cannons will be expected to come out shooting again against North Carolina. Five of the Wildcats  average nine or better points per game—Josh Hart (15.5), Kris Jenkins (13.6), Ryan Arcidiacono (12.4), Daniel Ochefu (10.1) and Jalen Brunson (9.7). The only team in Final Four history who shot a better percentage than the Wildcats did against the Sooners was the 1985 Villanova team who shot 79 percent against Georgetown in the NCAA Championship. North Carolina will need to cover the perimeter shooting by the Wildcats while also covering the big men inside.

Adrian Broaddus  may be reached at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Adrian Broaddus, Sports Editor
Adrian Broaddus is the sports editor for The Prospector. He is a junior multimedia journalism major with a minor in political science.   Adrian was born and raised in El Paso, TX, and is a graduate of Franklin high school. He entered college in the fall of 2015 in hopes to better his career in journalism.   Along with sports, Adrian enjoys writing music reviews, perspective columns and news stories on politics.   Although he is pursuing his degree in journalism, Adrian would like to go to law school and be an attorney while doing part-time work in journalism.  
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The 2-3 zone takeover