Quint Still Doesn’t Understand Zone Defense

Johns Hopkins vs Towson men's lacrosse 46

If you’re like me, you watched the Syracuse – Johns Hopkins game on ESPNU today. While the result itself is interesting (Cuse won 13-8), and will garner a lot of hype, what stuck out to me was Quint Kessenich’s inability to truly understand just how a zone defense works. I don’t like to rag on Quint much, but I do find his zone bashing to be perplexing.

Many teams, including UVA, have used it effectively, and yet Quint still has little to no respect for that style of defense. This isn’t a new issue, and it’s been persisting for a while. We joined the broadcast with Cuse up 5-1 after 1 quarter of play, due to a slow paced softball game (I’m talking about the delay, not the 5-1 score). Time to break down some of the zone defense analysis miscues:

– The broadcast begins with Quint saying that “Hopkins is reeling“, and he is spot on with that assessment as on ball and off ball defense for Hop looked just awful. At least the highlights they showed made it look awful. Bad communication, sloppy coverage, and some ball watching. It was not a pretty picture. This is probably the last point at which Quint and I agree on defensive schemes.

– “Late in that 1st quarter, Hopkins switched to a zone. Tough to play zone when you’re down… Basset finished up with a couple stops.” – Ok, so man was not working, and it was putting your team down by more and more goals. But zone did work, and helped Hop to stem the bleeding, and Bassett to get on track. So how exactly is it hard to play zone when you’re down in the 1st quarter, especially with the new stall rules? This is a case where bias trumps fact.

– “They’ve got some zone busters on the bench right now, in DeJoe and Walters“, said in reference to Cuse when they were on offense. Quint calls these guys zone busters because they can shoot the ball from the outside. Here is the catch: the zone WANTS to give up the outside shot. It is a defense predicated on the belief that your keeper can stop 14+ yard shots from certain places. Outside shooters are not zone busters, passers are zone busters. Right after Quint makes this comment, the ball is fed inside off a three man game, as it should be to beat a zone, but the Hop defense collapses on the feed perfectly.

– “And the zone generates the first turnover of the game for Hopkins.” At least Eamon is giving the zone some credit for being effective.

– Hopkins scores on a man up. Of Hop Quint says, “it’s a skilled unit. It’s why I’d never play zone against Hopkins“. Yes, a man up goal means you can’t play zone against Hop. Why work the zone rub in there? Because Quint has no respect for the zone.

– Stanwick scores when Cuse is playing man to man. No remark on why you don’t play man against Hopkins, even though a zone look could have dealt with Stanwick’s dodge better.

– “Hopkins on a 3-1 run in this quarter” – Eamon “Still in a zone…” – Quint. Care to take another look at that “it’s hard to play zone when you’re down” comment? No? All right then.

– Cuse is up 7-4. Carc starts to agree with Quint about putting in shooters as zone busters. Say it ain’t so, Carc! Cuse then goes on to move the ball well, play a three man passing game (the REAL key to beating a zone), and score from 11 yards out right in front of the cage. Not the shot the zone wants to give up. You don’t need a zone buster to score from 11 yards. You need precision passing.

– Eamon asks why Hop needs to play zone when they have such an experienced, talented defense. Well, Eamon, that is an EXCELLENT question. You see, the zone defense requires ALL the skills of man, PLUS some additional skills, so your players must be top notch athletes AND have a high lacrosse IQ. It’s not a case of need, it’s simply a case of being able to do it or not. Hop has smart, talented players, so they can, hypothetically, do it. From watching the game, we see they also can do it in reality. Running a zone well is actually harder than running man well, and takes a lot more time, so when you have experience, the scheme can be learned faster. If they were getting burned in man, zone is a good way to switch it up, but not as a default. It is something that must be learned and practiced a lot. You’ll see Hop is still adjusting to the zone look, and you can expect that it will improve greatly as they grow more accustomed to using it.

– Quint blames it on Hop thinking “we can’t match up” because Schoonmaker and Lecky scored unassisted goals, and literally leaves it at that.

– Hop scores FOUR straight unassisted goals. No mention that Cuse should consider changing to zone from anyone. Is that not the reason Hop switched? Because of unassisted goals? Let’s be consistent here. At least propose it?

– At the end of the 2nd quarter, Hop stays in their zone, Cuse possesses for a minute and gets off a 13 or 14 yard shot from a 45 degree angle (the shot the zone wants to give up), which Bassett saves easily.

– At halftime, Petro gives credit to the zone for stopping Cuse’s inside game, which hurt them early, and for slowing the SU offense down in general, which allowed his team to get their feet under them. Is it possible that Hop came out slow, and switched to zone because it forces the team to communicate and play team ball? It’s possible, but the question wasn’t asked. Petro hints at it though.

– To start the second half, Hopkins switches back to man on man defense. Then a bit later, Syracuse moves the ball, generates a good look and Lecky scores another one. I can make crazy generalizations too: you can’t create a come back by playing man. How ridiculous is that statement? Very. Same applies to zone, Q-man. No mention of any of this on the broadcast.

– WOAH! Now Quint is on the zone bandwagon? He’s doubting Hopkins’ change to man. The one off generalizations are flying now. At least he’s coming around. Then Hop goes back to a “3-3 zone“, which is only a 3-3 when Cuse is in a 3 high stack set, which they weren’t. Oh well.

– The commentators then get into a discussion on how visible shot clocks should be “required”. This is not about zone, but it’s another place where they are wrong. Quint says the offensive guys are “flying blind“, which is true, but he also says it like that is a bad thing. They got called for stalling, now they have to deal with the consequences. Making the shot clock visible is like prisoners in jail complaining because they only get basic cable. You’re lucky they’re warning you at all. Don’t stall. That’s the point of the rule changes. Now back to your regularly scheduled zone coverage.

– In the 4th quarter, Hopkins begins playing an extending pressure man-zone hybrid. No one comments on this, which is interesting, seeing as it is Hopkins’ most original pressure defense, and it allows them to keep poles on the outside, then man cover with short sticks. The defense is there, but the Hop offense sputters a bit, and Cuse stays ahead.

– Hop goes back to man in an effort to create a turnover, which I thought they did well in their zone-man hybrid, Cuse scores, and goes up 13-8.

– Game: Blouses. Lots of zone slamming early, but as it proved effective, there was less. I’ll hope for better next week.


  1. Like your take CW…. But announcer foolishness is nothing new. It’s even more unfortunate with Quint’s background on the defensive end. Like Krieg noted in his article last week, you either love him or hate him.

  2. I agree with your point about Quints zone bashing and how he should put more thought in it and be more consistent. But he is intitled to his opinion. Also I believe he and you are both right with “zone-busting” I’ve played defense my whole lacrosse basically and I agree with the face passing busts a zone. When you move the ball around fast enough and force a zone defense to move and slide it opens up space for more passing and closer shots. But at the same time when you are playing a team that has a guy who can shoot 14+ yards out and score like it is now ones business you are going to want to step out on him. No matter if you are in  zone or not. You are not going to want your goalie to take that kind of abuse all game. And again is the defense is force to step out in a zone on a 14+ yard shooter it opens room on the inside for passes and closer shoots. Even if the shooter doesn’t score from out there there is a chance for a “garbage goal” So both you and Quint were right for “Zone-Busting”

    Now for your point for not having visible shoot clocks. I for one is for visible shot clocks. It’s not just for the offense but for new and old fans along with the refs too. I’ve watched every single game I can on TV and espn3 and I have seen to many times when the 20 buzzer goes off and then the 10 sec time passes but the offense still has the ball for another 5 secs before a refs makes a call. It has happened to many times, on big TV games at that when you want every official on point with their calls. By adding a visible shot clock, yes it helps the offense by letting them know how much time they really have left and how to adjust accordingly without feeling like they are “flying-blind”, but it takes pressure off the refs because now everyone see how much time is left so a ref does not have to worry about counting and can focus on other things. While at the same time letting new and even veteran fans know what is going on without feeling like there are random calls being made or inconsistent calls being made. I mean you can get kids and fans alike counting down aloud when the shoot clock gets to 10 like they do in other sports and in the MLL. It adds a lil fun for everyone like the “Hey batter batter, hey batter batter, SWING” yelling in baseball. I don’t like baseball but I find myself doing that at times.

    Hope to hear what you think about what I said Connor Wilson. I love your articles and maybe you can help me get a tradish pocket. I strung a few and can’t get them to last long and not have a ton of whip or spread out to much after use. Keep the great articles coming!!!!

    • Great comment. First off, you are correct that Quint is entitled to his own opinion. No question. Of course so am I…

      In my opinion, very few teams have players capable of consistently scoring from 14+ yards. Cuse has some guys who can gun it, but 14+ is a serious shot to score from time and time again, especially if the zone is pushing shooters into predetermined lanes. Even against a guy like Kyle Wharton, or Sawyer, I would give up the 14 yard shot. I’d hope my keeper could save it. If he couldn’t, we simply shouldn’t be running a zone. Like I said, the zone works against good teams because it is predicated on the belief that your keeper can win the 14+ yard shot war. I stick to my contention that outside shooters can help extend a zone a bit, but a true zone buster is a player like Marasco, Stanwick, or Pannell, and not a DeJoe, or Sawyer.

      As for the visible shot clocks… if the NCAA adopts that rule, EVERYONE must follow it. It is not that easy to add shot clocks at every field, including neutral sites, in the country. ESPECIALLY not in one year.

      The idea behind the stall changes was to penalize stalling teams. I know the fans might like to see it, and the offense would love to see it, but I have not seen enough timer on situations to make the visible shot clock economically feasible yet.

      I love the thought you put in to your comments and ideas. Keep em coming. I may not agree with you, but I truly appreciate the conversation and exchange of ideas. Thanks @laxallstars-f52378e14237225a6f6c7d802dc6abbd:disqus !

      • First off i would like to say thank for responding. I see your point with “zone-busters” because this is not the MLL where every team has at least a guy who can shoot 14+ yards and score. This is college lax. So it is probably better to have a passer out there than a shooter to bust a zone. But who knows as time goes on and players get stronger every team will have shooter out on the field like that just like dunking in basketball. Which will then force goalies to have to get better and again push the game of lacrosse to another level across the board.

        As for your point on visible shot clocks. I totally agree about the financial part. It would cost some money and probably make it harder to have games at neutral sites to help grow the game. So I can see how that might not work right away. But they should put a time table together to reach that point when every lacrosse field in college has a shoot clock a few years down the road so schools have time to adjust and then you can put it in full affect. I just don’t think it should stop where it is now and I believe they should be moving towards visible shot clocks on the field in college like in the MLL. I mean i am all for punishing the offense when they slow the game down. As a defender I hate when the offense does that and crys about calls.

        But like everything it is a process and can not happen overnight or in a year. I personally will be happy when the bring the dive back, put visible shot clocks in and let the players play. I am all for protecting  players because I’ve had more concussion than I can count in my 6 year lacrosse career so far. But I still love a big hit at key points. It adds a little more urgency to a game. as long as it is not horrendous. They can keep the two pointer in the MLL because that way there is a step up in play when you change levels to the pros. Now I won’t get started on fighting that is a different story. Also the last point I want to bring up is I wish the LXM Pro and MLL would work together. Maybe have a annual champ game between the MLL champ and LXM Pro champ to see who is the top league of that year and bring both leagues together. That would be awesome to see and I think a great game also. it would also stop the needless twitter battle because to me both are great league to watch just like NCAA and MCLA. LETS MAKE IT HAPPEN CAPTAIN!!!!!