Andrew White improving on defense after early season struggles in zone

first_imgThe buzz around Syracuse three months ago was palpable. A No. 19 ranking floated next to SU’s name and phrases such as “Final Four” and “best team” were flung at Jim Boeheim in his season-opening press conference.Twenty-two games later, the number 19 remains relevant only as Frank Howard’s minutes per game. Now, “Final Four” and “best team” have been replaced by “inexperience” and “still learning.” Four first-year players shouldering significant minutes was bound to create some puzzles, even for a fifth-year senior like Andrew White, who considers himself a “high IQ guy.”No puzzle, however, presented a more complicated challenge than playing the zone. Earlier this season, White said he had second-guessed himself on defense. Four years of man-to-man college defense no longer applied.All season White has stressed the need for patience and belief that he’s all-in on learning Boeheim’s defense. Finally, in Saturday’s 82-72 win over then-No. 6 Florida State, White unveiled the defensive performance he’s been working toward. His nine rebounds and four steals didn’t set any season-highs for the veteran guard, but collectively it represented White’s maturation.Most important, he’s got a grip on how to better position himself in the zone and back down opponents contesting for rebounds. It’s taken longer than both he and Boeheim would have liked, but ahead of Syracuse’s (13-9, 5-4 Atlantic Coast) Wednesday night game at North Carolina State (14-8, 3-6), they’ll take it.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“To be a one-dimensional player in this league doesn’t work,” White said on Saturday. “I have a reputation as a shooter, but I try to be a threat on defense. I try to rebound. My urgency and desperation level are so high right now.“I can’t sleep because I’m thinking about the opportunities.”Just last year he starred at Nebraska, both as the team’s leading scorer and rebounder. White wasn’t a defensive stalwart on a subpar Cornhuskers team, but he hauled in 199 rebounds in 2015-16, averaging 5.9 per game compared to 4.7 this year.In an effort to become steadier on the boards, White’s recently shifted his rebounding strategy. Instead of trying for rebounds with one hand, he’s now trying to tip the ball away toward open space on the floor where he can cleanly come away with possession.“He made a commitment to himself to get more rebounds and hold his own on the wing,” freshman forward Taurean Thompson said. “He’s just been a real presence defensively and it helps us out a lot.”Even before shot opportunities arose for the Seminoles, White appeared to be in perfect motion with the zone. Several times he flicked away passes. Sometimes out of bounds, sometimes back into FSU’s arms or sometimes into Syracuse’s possession. All of it a product of anticipation.That, perhaps more than any other sign exhibited Saturday, was encouraging for a player only known for his jump shot.“He was back, pushing, … battling with the big guys down there,” Boeheim said. “He had four steals, nine rebounds, eight defensive rebounds — that’s outstanding. Outstanding.”With the Orange clinging to a four-point lead and less than three minutes to go, FSU’s Jarquez Smith hoisted a deep 3. White positioned himself beneath the hoop with 6-foot-10 NBA hopeful Jonathan Isaac towering over his back. As the ball left Smith’s hands, White peaked over his shoulder and sealed off Isaac.When the ball ricocheted off the iron, the Seminoles’ freshman never had a chance. White’s box out afforded him enough space to cleanly snag the rebound and jumpstart one of SU’s final possessions.Rebounding, and defense, in general, has plagued the Orange all season. Its only redeeming quality at times has been scoring, spearheaded by White. Now Syracuse’s most reliable offensive presence is ready to mirror his production on the other side of the floor.“(White’s) so good offensively that the attention is taken away from his defense,” point guard John Gillon said. “I think people should start taking notice.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on February 1, 2017 at 12:12 am Contact Connor: cgrossma@syr.edu | @connorgrossmanlast_img

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