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Johns Hopkins vs Towson men's lacrosse 46
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Quint Still Doesn’t Understand Zone Defense

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.