Fellow Nunesian Upstait posted a link to a great article over at Ballin' is a Habit that addressed Syracuse's lack of defensive rebounding and the effect it might have on the Orange's ability to make a deep NCAA tournament run. It's no secret that Syracuse, statistically speaking, is a mediocre rebounding team at best. They're T-93rd in the nation at 36.6 RPG. Even worse, they are the sole owner of 210th place in defensive rebounds per game with an even 23.0.
Against struggling Pittsburgh on Monday, the Orange allowed the Panthers to grab 18 offensive rebounds and were -14 total on the boards. Clearly this means that Syracuse can't make a deep tournament, right? Surely a paltry +1.3 rebounding margin for the season is going to bite the Orange at the wrong time.
Many of the comments on Upstait's FanPost brought up an interesting point: Syracuse doesn't get a high number of defensive rebounds because those rebounds simply aren't available. Much has been made of the fact that the Orange lead the nation in steals and turnover margin, but how does that correlate to overall defensive efficiency and the ability to win games despite apparent inability to clear the defensive glass?
This week: We Don't Need no Stinkin' Rebounds
Of all the defensive statistics available, points allowed per possession is best able to quantify the totality of Syracuse's defensive effort. It takes into account any situation where an opponent fails to get points; steals, opponents' dead ball turnovers, defensive rebounding, shots blocked out of bounds, etc. It'll even cover a situation where, say, Fab forces threes misses inside before Syracuse can finally corral a rebound. After all, offensive rebounds surrendered aren't what really matters. An offensive rebound is just the potential for another basket. Syracuse, though, tends not to let opponent's take advantage of those opportunities. Consider the following.
Syracuse holds opponents to 0.89 points per possession, a number that has remained consistent throughout the season. That's good for 13th in the country. The low of 0.74 occurred against an over-matched non-conference opponent (Manhattan) and the high values of 0.89 occurring against more formidable Big East teams Marquette, Villanova and Pittsburgh. The upward trend in opponents' points per possession isn't surprising or alarming. It's to be expected as the year goes on and the Orange play better teams. The remarkable consistency, though is key, especially when compared to Syracuse's offensive efficiency. Syracuse scores 1.18 points per possession, 4th in the country. That's a differential of .29 points per possession. So, essentially, every time the ball changes hands three times, Syracuse gains a point. Combine that with the fact that the Orange average 1.7 possessions per minute and that's about a point every two minutes.
All this is done while playing exactly the same average number of possessions (68) on both offense and defense. So for all the talk of steals, blocks and forced turnovers, Syracuse doesn't end up with possession of the ball any more than their opponents. They're just extremely efficient with those possessions. On the other hand, for a team that is ranked fifth to last in Division I in offensive rebounds surrendered (14.2 per game), the Orange do a tremendous job of preventing opponents from converting scoring opportunities.
It could be argued that no team in the country that is more efficient overall than Syracuse. There is no team that is ranked above the Orange in both offensive and defensive points per possession.
So, what does it all mean?
For one, the obvious. Syracuse can, and needs to, improve on the defensive glass. While giving up offensive rebounds hasn't hurt them so far, it goes without saying that the fewer shots the Orange give opponents, the better. Second, it gives quantifiable credence to what we've seen out of this Syracuse squad. Their success is based on defense that not only gets stops, but sets up opportunities for easy offense. The Orange opening the game against Pittsburgh with three dunks within the first ten seconds of the shot clock isn't luck or an accident. Along the same lines, Syracuse's chances at a deep tourney run are increased by their efficiency.
Winning six in a row against the best college basketball has to offer requires that the most be squeezed out of every second of every game. Syracuse's game is predicated on that very concept, making them a prime Final Four candidate.