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Sunday Conversation: Does the zone play?

Is zone the way forward for the Musketeers, or does it insufficiently paper over the cracks?

James Farr excels under the rim.
James Farr excels under the rim.
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Joel: We play to our competition, and I think we also play to the occasion. In what should have been a walkover home win against Creighton, we wet the bed and lost in OT. When we were down six at the half to a very good Providence team, we went ahead within five minutes and outscored them by 15 in the second half. That's maybe the mark of a dangerous team, but it's not a dominant one. What is doing this to us?

Bryan: Mack had a lot to say about leadership after the loss, and I think that is probably at least part of it. We have had one game where we punched above our weight for 40 minutes, and other than that it has been done with bursts and runs. It has to be mentality coming into the game at this point, because we never woke up against Creighton, but rose to the occasion against a much better team in a worse situation at halftime.

Brad: It was good to see us finally punch somebody. Joel and I watched the game together and were talking about missing the meanness of Tu and Cheeks. In that second half though, we hit them once and when they came back, we hit them again. Jalen and Myles have it, and today they transmitted that to the rest of the squad at least to some extent. JP is just JP. I'm not sure if he's tough or just unstable.

Bryan: I was impressed with Myles putting his money where his mouth it, so to speak, by coming out ready to go today.

Joel: How much of that do you attribute to having a young coach? (I think JP is just a nutter, by the way.) Anyone can get the team up for a big game, and Mack has had teams rise to some pretty tough occasions. Getting hyped for Creighton at 9pm on a Wednesday is a little more of a task; maybe he's still learning that art.

Bryan: I think it is one of his weaknesses as a coach, but I am sure it hasn't escaped him that we are maddeningly inconsistent. I think another part of it is being a young team and not having overly vocal upperclassmen. Jalen and Myles have been stepping up, but they are really in their first year of being major contributors.

Joel: I was glad to see us hit some threes today. Both the players and Coach Mack commented in the presser about how big a boost it is to the team to knock down those shots. I don't think we were getting markedly better looks today, I just think we were hitting shots we should have hit all along. Hopefully we've shaken off that team-wide shooting slump, because we generally lose if we're not scoring it from deep.

We held them to 29 points in 36 possessions (.806 PPP) in the second half; is that 1-3-1 the way forward for this team?

Bryan: If for no other reason than that it seemed to help us stay present on the boards, I like it. Factor in that we won't have to watch Dee get torched by anyone's backup center in the post and I really like it.

Brad: Post defense on a seven footer is definitely not one of Dee's strengths. Still, that 1-3-1 had holes in it. Macura got lost on the top twice. Getting lost on the top of a zone really takes some effort. Jalen got beat when he simply never rotated once. We look a little better in it, but we just never look like we have the clamps on someone.

Joel: Really? I'll take .806 PPP as a pretty clamps-like effort. Jalen is a menace in the middle or the top of that zone, and it allows us to get something out of JP while not sacrificing too much if he doesn't successfully jump a passing lane and ends up getting baked. Mostly what I like is that this team has the personnel to be a little more creative on defense and Coach Mack is getting them out there in some sets that can really shake up an opponent.

Brad: I agree that we looked dominant for stretches yesterday, but we also made some truly stupid mistakes and benefited from the fact the Providence isn't a great shooting team. That number looks a lot different if they make more than three of the 12 threes we allowed them to take in the second half. Those weren't bad looks either, they just can't shoot. 12 threes allowed is playing with the very same fire that's burned us all year.

Bryan: It is a case of picking your poison to me. Teams get great looks in post against man if they pick and roll and can still run a shooter to the corner for a look as well. Is zone perfect? No. Is almost anything better than what we do in man to man? Pretty much.

Brad: Our bigs play man so poorly it sometimes look like zone. Did someone tell James Farr he's not allowed to leave the charge circle? Is he under a spell that traps him there? I wonder if Sean O'Mara's spasm of effectiveness is the beginning of the end for James.

Joel: I don't know; it was exactly a week ago that Coach Mack said he needed to play James more. We don't need a lot of offense out of that position. Both players throw their bodies around in the glass, and I think Farr's high DReb% is kind of deceptive in that he spends a lot of time standing under the basket to the detriment of the team's defense. To me it comes down to who is positioning himself better off the ball on defense. If O'Mara is doing that - i.e., not just letting his man lift uncontested corner threes - I keep running him out there.

How about Dee Davis? He goes for 15 dimes and a 3.75:1 A:TO this game after going for 27 and a 13.5:1 in his four previous games. Best of all, he shot twice in 39 minutes of play, and that only because they dared him to. That is the Dee this team needs; we just have to keep knocking down those open jumpers.