The University of Dayton survived a meeting with the best defensive team in the Big Ten Conference Thursday by beating it down court for some easy baskets.
The challenge against the vaunted Syracuse University defense is a little different tonight in the third-round game of the NCAA Basketball Tournament at First Niagara Center.
Ohio State, which Dayton beat, 60-59, plays a man-to-man defense, led by tenacious guards. Syracuse plays a 2-3 zone defense and has a lot more size than Ohio State. But Dayton’s offensive objective remains the same.
“One thing is, we have to amp up our pace of play,” Dayton coach Archie Miller said. “When we play against the zone, we have to play as fast as we do against the man. That’s the comfort level of our kids. That’s the one thing we’ve got to do. That game’s got to be on the run.”
“One of our keys going into every game is to use our defensive stops to get our fast break going,” said Dayton center Matt Kavanaugh. “Some of our best offense is in transition. If we can get it out and run with it, we’ll get some easier looks.”
It sounds like a good plan. However, Dayton’s path to an upset of Syracuse is easier plotted than executed.
Syracuse is ranked No. 11 in the nation and seeded No. 3 in the NCAA’s South Region. The Orange have the ninth-ranked scoring defense in the country, holding foes to an average of 59.5 points a game. They have held 19 of their 31 opponents under 60 points.
Can Dayton get into the 60s tonight?
“I don’t know,” Miller said. “They do a great job of holding you down.”
“Part of it, obviously, is their size,” Miller said. “They have great size and quickness and length. And I do think when you play against a zone for 40 minutes, it changes you a little bit. You want to execute. You don’t want to shoot quick. You’re not going to get the same looks you’re going to get against the man-to-man. It’s different.”
Dayton outscored Ohio State, 13-6, on the fast break. It should have been more, because Dayton got careless on other transition opportunities. Dayton, an 11th seed, played a lot of zone-defense teams in its nonconference schedule but didn’t see a lot of zones in its Atlantic 10 Conference play.
Dayton assistant coach Allen Griffin played for Syracuse from 1998 to 2001. He says he doesn’t have a secret to solving the zone.
“You can’t make up a secret for 7-foot, 6-11 and 6-8,” Griffin said. “We’ve just got to be aggressive and confident against the zone.”
The matchups don’t look great for Dayton, which goes 6-10, 6-7 and 6-6 across its front line. Dayton tied for eighth in scoring in the Atlantic 10, averaging 68.9 points a game.
Dayton is hoping its depth might give it an edge. Dayton will use 10 or 11 players.
Syracuse will play seven or eight in a close game.
“We’ve been running 11 guys out there, so if a guy gets tired, we can run somebody else in,” Griffin said.