This Week in Stupid: The Post-Standard Insults Your Intelligence II

Delicious for your tummy. Probably bad when using calculators and making sweet love. via www.webwiseforradio.com

Installment I: Limiting Turnovers

Let's keep the critical thinking going.  I know, I know. This is strange and unfamiliar territory.  Hell, I usually spend my days thinking about whether having lobster claws instead of hands would be awesome or really dangerous.  I'm currently leaning toward "delicious," but I think that would make me a pseudo-cannibal or something.

Anyway, in case you missed it, we're working through The Post-Standard's woefully incomplete and wayward analysis regarding Syracuse's undefeated start.  For this installment, the focus is on the defense, specifically this statement:

2. Blanket shooters
The zone has been at its harassing best. Opponents are shooting 37.6 percent from the field and 28.1 percent from 3-point range.
Example: Northern Iowa shot 18.2 percent from the 3.

All of those words are words. The issue, however, is why blanketing shooters is important and whether other factors are significant.

My concern with the statement isn't if it's correct; it's whether the statement is complete (Spoiler Alert: It isn't).

Here's our backdrop:

METRIC DEFENSE NATIONAL AVERAGE

3PA/FGA

46.9 (345)

32.9

3-Point Distribution

38.6 (6)

27.2

2-Point Distribution

47.6 (277)

51.7

Free-Throw Rate

13.8 (338)

21.1

Defensive effective field goal percentage correlation to defensive efficiency: +81
Defensive effective field goal percentage correlation to offensive efficiency: +3

Also:

METRIC DEFENSE NATIONAL AVERAGE

Block Percentage

18.2 (6)

9.4

Offensive Rebounding Percentage

31.2 (127)

32.8

3-Point Shooting Percentage

28.1 (35)

33.9

2-Point Shooting Percentage

46.0 (131)

47.4

So, why are teams shooting so poorly against Syracuse from the field?  Part of it is that the Orange have faced terrible offensive teams (this is addressed in a later installment), part of it is that the zone is doing its job, and part of it is individual attention to defensive detail.  Bullet points!
  • Look at that 3PA/FGA (this is just three point attempts per total field goals attempted): 46.9 percent. That's shocking.  Opponents are hoisting the ball like crazy from three.  Syracuse is controlling the dribble drive, closing off passing lanes, and keeping the ball in front of them. When teams are connecting on all of 28.1 percent of deep attempts against the zone, it helps contribute to the aura that Syracuse is draped all over its opponents.
  • Why does that last bullet point matter?  Look at the three-point distribution: 38.6 percent of opponent points are coming from beyond the arc (that's freakishly high, but fairly regular for the Orange). If you take a lot of triples and can't make 'em, the defense is going to have a field day (and not get into foul trouble).
  • What's that about foul trouble?  Hold on, hoss. Let's talk about what the Syracuse defense is doing inside the arc first. This is where the Orange is intimidating like crazy: The Orange is blocking 18.2 percent of opponent shots, collecting 31.2 percent of defensive rebound opportunities, and generating a steal on 13.7 percent of opponent offensive possessions.  The most important part of all this? Syracuse is playing aggressive defense and not sending opponents to the line (only five teams in the country have been better at not sending opponents to the line).  Yee-haw!
  • The Post-Standard appears to be supporting the following train of thought: Bad opponent shooting percentage = great defense = wins. The first part of that is total DERP! territory: Of course a poor shooting performance is going to make a defense look great.  Shockingly, though, the train of thought is pretty true.  Look at the correlation of opponent effective field goal percentage to Syracuse's defensive efficiency: +81. That's really important (and DERP!-y). 
  • Now, the question is how important is Syracuse's defensive efficiency to winning games?  Is superverymuch a word?  The Orange has played three games in which its defensive efficiency was above its regular rate: William and Mary (96.7), Georgia Tech (112.8), and North Carolina State (91.4).  Syracuse won those games by 3,4,and 10, respectively.  Michigan is an odd outlier, but its fair to say that the Orange's closest games have occurred when the team's defensive efficiency is in the tank.  And the team's defensive efficiency goes in the tank when teams shoot well against the zone.

So, what did we learn?  Well, how teams shoot against the Orange is important, but it's probably more valuable knowing where the shots are coming from and that Syracuse can play aggressive defense without providing free-throw opportunities.

Final Decision: Very important facet, mostly because this team has won with defense because it has an offense that's kind of disabled from the ground up.

Next Installment: Forgo Three-Pointers

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