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A Potential X-Factor Against Syracuse’s Zone

Hint: it’s the biggest guy on the floor, although not for the reason you might expect

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Pittsburgh
Duke Blue Devils Duke Blue Devils center Mark Williams (15) warms up before playing the Pittsburgh Panthers at the Petersen Events Center.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Since Syracuse joined the ACC, how to best attack their vaunted 2-3 zone has been discussed ad nauseam. The easiest answer is to extend the zone with three point shooting, but a higher efficiency option has always been to attack the high-post. Entering the ball at the top of the key either forces the top two defenders to sag down (opening up a straight-away three-point shot) or for the middle defender to help up (opening up the rim). Successfully employing this strategy is often easier said than done, though, since the player in this position needs to be able to see over tall defenders and have a high basketball IQ to make the correct pass.

Enter Mark Williams.

The freshman center was an afterthought against Virginia given the unique matchup that the Cavalier bigs represent, but had been one of the major factors in Duke’s previous two victories. Against Syracuse he could be in for a spotlighted role again operating from that high post.

Williams has already shown stellar floor awareness for a young big, including multiple occasions where he has played a the high-post beautifully to find easy buckets for Matthew Hurt. He’s also shown an ability to make open jumpers from the free throw line, meaning the defense will have to respect that shot. And at 7-foot-1, even Marek Dolezaj’s length is unlikely to impair his court vision.

Call it a hunch, but where Williams is deployed early in the game should give some key insight into Coach K’s gameplan. He could play a Marshall Plumlee role, content to try to “hide” behind the backline in search of easy drop off buckets and put backs. Or, he could find himself as a “point-center” running the offense through the high post. Either way, his presence should be an X-factor against the Orange.