Zoned In: How Virginia Tech Walloped the Orange

Thanks to Justyn Mutts' pinpoint passing and Hunter Cattoor's lockdown defense, Virginia Tech took down Syracuse for their second straight win. A look at the film for how the job was done.

[Virginia Tech Athletics]

It takes time for a team to gel.

Such is the lesson learned after the Virginia Tech men's basketball won two crucial ACC games over the week. On Monday, the Hokies eked out a 78-75 win over Duke, ridding themselves of a seven-game losing streak and furthering their dominance of the Blue Devils at home. Tech followed up that performance with an 85-70 trashing of Syracuse on Saturday evening, picking apart Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone to the tune of 53% shooting from the floor.

Now, the Hokies are heating up. Over their last two games, Tech has shot 45% from three. This was the team that we knew all along. Awake from their hibernation, they have risen to torch the nets.

There are several components to this winning streak worthy of mention. I'll hit on a few of them today, and discuss how Tech so thoroughly undressed the Orange's defense. Like last year, Tech got off to a 2-7 in conference play. So watch out, ACC: the Hokies have 'em right where they want 'em.

Beating the 2-3

The two biggest keys to beating a zone defense are ball movement and player movement. In order to beat a zone you have to make good passes and you need to move in such a way that stresses the defense. With an attention-to-details coach like Mike Young, it's no surprise that Virginia Tech beat the 2-3 with ease with their excellent cutting and passing. Most of that centers around one man: Justyn Mutts.

Mutts is truly the perfect player to put in the middle of the zone. You always want your best passer in this spot — most teams will call it the "nail", referring to an actual nail on the court located at the center of the free-throw line. It is from this position that the offense flows. Mutts' length and passing ability allowed him to carve up the Orange, and it started from the get-go.

Mutts (#25) wraps a bounce pass for Grant Basile (#21) who was stationed under the basket behind Syracuse center Jesse Edwards (#14). It looks like a pretty simple execution, but this pass was harder than it looked. Mutts has to twist his body inside, extend his arms to get the ball past the reach of Edwards, and angle the bounce perfectly for Basile to receive it in stride. In the meantime, Basile slides over to the left side of the basket to give himself an open passing lane. I once heard it said that basketball is a game of angles. I think this is a great example — the angle of the pass is crucial for setting up the bucket.

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