Syracuse has played nine basketball games this season, 360 minutes worth of hoops. The team has played in three locations against members of seven different conferences. The Orange have faced teams with varying styles of play, different constructs in skill attributes, and has, itself, gone through different looks as the season has progressed.
With this as the backdrop, you'd think that describing Syracuse's unblemished start would necessitate more than 215 words, right? Well, The Post-Standard disagrees.
In probably the worst piece of writing I've seen this year from a major publication, someone -- I don't know who as a sourced byline is absent -- attempted to distill the Orange's start into five supportive reasons. As I noted in a tweet yesterday, some of the points are on the money; many of the points are incomplete or wayward; all of it insults our intelligence as sophisticated consumers of basketball.
Now, I have a strong affinity for Donna Ditota and Mike Waters. I think that they are absolutely fabulous and I'm thinking about sending them loving Christmas cards with handwritten notes to show my appreciation for what they do. But if either of them penned the linked piece (I do not believe that either did), I'll cry and and sit shiva for the passing of great journalism.
Anyway, I'm going to dissect the piece and hopefully complete the proferred thoughts and shed some light on how and why Syracuse is in the position that it is currently in. As these essays are kind of long (apologies, but stay with me, people), they'll be broken into six parts that address each of the reasons The Post-Standard floated as cornerstones for the Orange's undefeated start:
- Limit Turnovers
- Blanket Shooters
- Forgo Three-Pointers
- Get to the Line
- Control Boards
- Additional Considerations
In other words, you're getting a ton of Syracuse basketball thrown at you today and tomorrow. We'll knock out the first installment right after the jump.
From The Post-Standard:
Syracuse is averaging 11.8 turnovers per game. Opponents are averaging 15.1.
Example: SU had only five turnovers against North Carolina State.
Here's the backdrop we're going to work with (courtesy, as always, of the indispensable Ken Pomeroy):
Offensive turnover percentage correlation to offensive efficiency:+2
Defensive turnover percentage correlation to defensive efficiency: +23
- There is a slight correlation between Syracuse's defense creating turnovers and the team's defensive success. It is very muted, though, as the defense is supporting itself in other ways (I explain why in other installments). Basically, there are two important facts: 1) the Orange has played against miserable offenses; and 2) the zone is a beast.
- Now, I'm not implying that defensive turnovers aren't important. They are -- in short, it eliminates an opponent from converting on an offensive possession (DERP!). Let's pick out four games in particular: Detroit, William and Mary, North Carolina State, and Michigan State. In those four contests, the Orange maintained a defensive turnover rate greater than its overall average. When you compound the fact that those four games also constituted the worst four offensive shooting nights Syracuse had from the field (all four were below the Orange's season 47.9 effective field goal percentage with the game against North Carolina State being the worst at 40 percent), it's fair to say that the lost opponent offensive conversion opportunities helped the Orange secure victory. It wasn't the most important piece to the puzzle, but it was important. So, yes, we can say that there were instances when Syracuse stealing the bean was truly important to getting a "W" (e.g., miserable offensive nights). However, in totem, this isn't a bedrock correlation to victory or otherwise.
- On the offensive end, Syracuse taking care of the basketball has ensured the following: It has given the Orange more chances to miss (and, when the mood is right, make) shots. So, from a forest-through-the-trees standpoint, yes, taking care of the rock has helped, but Syracuse's poor shooting isn't capitalizing on such care. This bears itself out in the offensive efficiency correlation: a meager +2.
- To dovetail that last point with some examples, let's look at the four games where Syracuse's offensive turnover rate was greater than their regular percentage: Northern Iowa, Michigan, Georgia Tech, and Cornell. Why did Syracuse win those games? Holding onto the basketball wasn't really the reason. What it came down to was: Northern Iowa couldn't shoot, Michigan couldn't shoot and did a poor job at getting to the line, Georgia Tech lost because the Orange shot well and had a dominate free throw rate (not percentage, but rather getting to the line), and Cornell lost because they're Cornell. It's all in black and white, sweetheart, and babying the basketball wasn't the instigator to inglorious wins.
- I know where you're going next, and I'm going to cut you off. I'm unsure whether there is a solid correlation between Syracuse's defense generating turnovers and increased transition opportunities (e.g., easy buckets off the swipe). When you look at the game-by-game breakdown, Syracuse's pace (possessions per game) has stayed somewhat static, even in games with a high defensive turnover rate. Moreover, the correlation between the team's offensive efficiency and creating defensive turnovers is reflected as insignificant as well (it's actually an anti-correlation, if you can believe that). I'm not exactly sold that the numbers here are telling me what my eyes see and my brain thinks -- I thought this would bear out more -- and I believe that it's due to the fact that the Orange have been so bad from the field that it's flooding the overall offensive efficiency calculation. I have nothing to back that statement up with, though, other than reasonableness. Let's reserve judgment on this for the time being, but I think the numbers will come back to reason as the season progresses. In other words, taking what isn't yours = easy buckets and a better offensive efficiency (hopefully).
So, what did we learn here? Well, generating turnovers is important (but not really, really important) to the Syracuse defense and taking care of the rock is less than important to the Syracuse offense (because it's going to miss shots during those offensive opportunities anyway). Also, we generally support the defense stealing things and the offense not having things stolen from them as that just makes good basketball sense, even if it isn't significantly impacting the outcome of games right now.
Final Decision: Turnovers (for and against) are kind of important to the defense, but not the most important facet to the Orange's start.
Next Installment: Blanket Shooters