Tyler Roberson proves to be key cog in Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense

first_img Published on January 18, 2017 at 10:51 pm Contact Paul: [email protected] | @pschweds Five years, three schools and two NCAA Tournaments have provided Andrew White with his fair share of highlight memories. Still, the senior swingman said playing defense in the same frontcourt as Tyler Roberson has been one of his most exciting experiences.On Jan. 7 against Pittsburgh, Roberson blocked a career-high six shots, including three within a three-minute, 31-second stretch as part of a 30-2 Syracuse run. It sparked the Orange’s second straight conference win, then seen as a potential turning point in an inconsistent season.“It’s been fun back there,” White said after the game. “You want to get in. (There was) one stretch where it seemed like every time they came in (the paint), it was getting pinned on the backboard.”Syracuse (11-8, 3-3 Atlantic Coast) has received its best contributions on the defensive end this season from Roberson. Players plugged into the 2-3 zone should move as one unit, and Roberson’s athleticism and advanced understanding of the system make him a valuable piece. In five games against major-conference, non-ACC opponents, Roberson averaged only 12 minutes. But because of his defensive awareness, the senior forward has since wormed back into the rotation as the first sub off the bench. He’s played 27.7 minutes per contest in conference games, and he’ll likely be tasked with providing a similar defensive boost when Syracuse plays No. 15 Notre Dame (16-2, 5-0) on Saturday at noon.In six ACC games, Roberson has averaged a team-high 8.3 rebounds. He corrals 17.1 percent of the available defensive rebounds when he’s on the floor, the conference’s 24th-best rate, per Kenpom.com as of Wednesday night.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“Just try to cover my spots is all,” Roberson said. “And if a teammate needs help or something breaks down, then I help out. I just try to fly around and cover my spots. That’s all you really can do. Try to make blocks and steals if you get the opportunity.”Syracuse’s rotation heavily features four players in their first year at the school and a sophomore. The struggles to acclimate to a new system showed when the Orange allowed 93 points to St. John’s on Dec. 21 and 96 to Boston College on Jan. 1. Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said he was surprised by how long it took graduate transfers White and John Gillon to learn his 2-3 zone.Roberson’s ability to collapse down low, close out on the perimeter and, perhaps most of all, use his experience in the zone became strong arguments for him to receive regular playing time. And he has done that as one of the few players in Boeheim’s current six-man rotation. Gillon described Roberson as “the key” to SU’s half-court defense, and freshman forward Taurean Thompson noted his skill of trapping opponents in the corners. Roberson’s increased minutes manifested immediate results. In ACC games only, SU ranks fifth in the league allowing 73 points per game.“He’s quick off his feet,” Thompson said. “He’s a good rebounder, great with blocks and he’s probably one of the best defensive guys when it comes to rotations. He mastered it.”Ally Moreo | Photo EditorOn Jan. 14 against Boston College, the 6-foot-8 Roberson rushed to the perimeter along the left sideline with point guard Frank Howard to trap BC’s Ky Bowman. The Eagles sharpshooter pivoted in between the two Orange defenders and wildly launched a cross-court pass to no one in particular. It sailed to Syracuse’s bench, where players stood up and cheered.“He’s probably overlooked a little bit because it’s not points,” Gillon said. “But his presence back there is just crazy. You can’t shoot over him, his vertical’s too high. He’s so active, he can move, he’s strong so just those little things. It just helps us.”The possession after forcing Bowman into the turnover, Roberson teased some offense. He finished an easy layup to extend Syracuse’s first-half lead to four. On Monday, after subbing in against No. 9 North Carolina, Roberson scored six points in just over two minutes.But Roberson plays because of his defense. Flashes are just that. He’s often failed to convert around the rim, and his only consistent offensive contribution is crashing the glass.“When we need to score points,” Boeheim said, “we put (Thompson) in.”Yet Thompson’s flaw is Roberson’s strength, so Boeheim situationally mixes and matches. And when the coach needs defense, he goes to the four-year veteran who brings experience no other forward on the roster can replicate. Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img