Team USA to play some zone?

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski (L) and assistant coach Jim Boeheim talk during a U.S. national basketball team practice in Las Vegas, Nevada July 21, 2010. REUTERS/Laura Rauch (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Chris Mannix of has the details:

When Team USA broke camp in Las Vegas last month, before reuniting this week in New York for more workouts, implementing a zone defense wasn’t even on its radar. Pressure was the word of the week, with U.S. coaches convinced that the team’s length and athleticism would make it a dangerous pressing unit in the upcoming FIBA World Championships.

However, recent circumstances — specifically the withdrawal of most of the team’s top big men — has led to a shift in that thinking. With Amar’e Stoudemire, David Lee and Brook Lopez bowing out of the tournament, which begins Aug. 28, rebounding has become a major point of concern. Tyson Chandler and JaVale McGee are the only natural centers on the roster, while Kevin Love and Lamar Odom are the only true power forwards.

Playing zone, coaches say, will position more bodies near the backboards. To that end, the U.S. has tapped assistant coach Jim Boeheim, who has employed the zone at Syracuse for more than three decades, to teach the principles of the defense to the U.S. team.

“It can take away the inside and take away the offensive flow,” Krzyzewski said. “If you really play it well, people think you give up the three in it but you can match up pretty well in it.”

With the right personnel and enough practice, a zone can be extremely difficult to score on. It gets a bad rap because too often teams turn to it in desperation when they’re already getting killed and they haven’t practiced it all week. But when players know their assignments, it can be a great defensive weapon.

The key is to force three-point shooters to drive and pull up for difficult 15-18 footers that they haven’t practiced as much. There is always help in position with a zone, so the perimeter defenders can aggressively close on a shooter without worrying too much about the help that’s behind him.

Jim Boeheim is a master of the zone so if anyone can get Team USA ready, he can.

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