Utilizing Zylan Cheatham against the Zone
When it comes to being multidimensional, Cheatham is easily ASU’s best player. At 6-foot-8, the redshirt senior has the ability to crash the glass on one end and go coast-to-coast on the other.
In the past two seasons, the Sun Devils have struggled to find someone who could operate in the high post and short corner of a zone defense. Last night, Cheatham was used in both ways, and it opened up a lot of offense.
In the first half, Cheatham played in the center of the zone, flashing to the high post directly or through ball-screens on the baseline and cuts from the perimeter. In turn, ASU’s guards would create openings through dribble hand-offs or three-man rotations, eventually hitting Cheatham in the middle.
When he got there, there were two options Utah could implore.
- They could stay back on ASU’s perimeter players (Martin, Edwards, Dort), which would give Cheatham a 1-on-1 with Jayce Johnson or Timmy Allen.
- They could collapse on Cheatham, opening a dump-pass for Romello White or more opportunities for ASU’s perimeter shooters.
Either way, the Utes were at a disadvantage. With 13:55 left in the first half, there was a sequence where Cheatham received an entry pass, spun and finished over Johnson directly. On the next play, Utah’s two perimeter players collapsed on Cheatham, creating an open 3-point attempt for Martin to extend a 10-point lead.
In the second half, Hurley moved Cheatham to the block, where he played the short corner while Taeshon Cherry brought ASU’s offense to a ‘four-out’ set or White operated as a pick-and-roll man.
This is easily Cheatham’s best play when operating the short corner. First, he is decoyed as a perimeter player, then subtly flashes to the block. Here, he shows his veteran presence, sealing off Allen and giving Martin a direct angle for a no-look pass. Cheatham finishes easily.
Later, he gets the opportunity to go 1-on-1 on the block. With his athleticism, Cheatham is able to make one move toward the middle to get a much-needed easy bucket.
While facing zone defenses isn’t optimal, the Sun Devils have shown they’re adapting to it, using their most complete player in a variety of ways.