Syracuse can't rebound.
That's been the story for awhile now. Syracuse has talent. Syracuse is great on the fast break. Syracuse plays great defense. But they can't grab a rebound for the life of them. On the season, Syracuse has a -1 total rebounding margin. Syracuse allows offensive rebounds on 39% of opponents' misses, which ranks 341th in the nation. Countless times the 2-3 zone works hard to force long misses only to give up a put back dunk when it's all said and done. Such shoddy board work is bound to be the Achilles heel that dooms a #1 seeded Orange team to a Sweet 16 NCAA exit.
Or will it?
When we talk about offensive rebounds, what are we talking about? Extra possessions. Sure, extra possessions have the potential to result in points for the other team, but not always. Plus, there's more than one way to create extra possessions. Syracuse is among the national leaders in turning over opponents. So how do extra possessions created by offensive rebounding and turnovers forced affect the outcome of Syracuse's games?
This Week: Apples and Oranges.
For starters, let's define the method used. The goal was to determine how many points are scored by Syracuse and their opponents on extra possessions, specifically off of offensive rebounds and turnovers. To arrive at these numbers, I multiplied the TO and OReb rates of Syracuse and their opponents by the number of possessions per 40 minutes in order to determine how many of those possessions could be considered "extra". Then I multiplied the number of extra possessions by the average points per possession to determine how many points were actually scored on those extra opportunities. Only Big East conference games were considered to eliminate instances where the Orange destroyed the likes of Fordham or Albany.
First, the bad news. Syracuse allows far too many offensive rebounds. With the size and depth boasted by the Orange, such poor work keeping opponents off the glass is simply inexcusable. In the Louisville game alone, there were several times where two or three Orange players simply watched the ball when a shot went up, instead of getting into position for a rebound. These are things that can be coached and corrected. As bad as it may seem while watching the games, though, the effect isn't as detrimental as you might think.
Yes, Syracuse is giving up 40.5% of opponents misses to offensive rebounds. Yes, Syracuse only gets about 35% of its misses. Syracuse is an average -3 in conference play on the offensive class. But when taking into account points per possession, Syracuse actually outscores opponents in this area on average. The Orange give up 25.4 points on opportunities created by offensive rebounds. They score 25.5. How is this possible? The most obvious factor is that Syracuse leads the Big East in FG% and it second in FG% defense. So, Syracuse gives up more OReb because, not only to they force misses, but force misses on second opportunities as well. On the other hand, they rebound less of their misses because there are less chances to do so. So, certainly, Syracuse can rebound better. And, sure, they could surrender that one offensive board that leads to a go ahead basket that leads to a crucial loss. But, overall, the battle on the boards is a wash because the Orange make better use of their fewer opportunities.
Now, the good news. Syracuse turns opponents over like crazy. This we know. What's even better is that they're also taking care of the ball. The Orange have an average +6 TO margin in Big East play. They force turnovers on 24.1% of opponent's possessions, while only giving the ball back at a rate of 15%. Most of the talk has centered around Syracuse's ability to get steals, which is credit well deserved. But they're also good at forcing errant passes, traveling calls and shot clock violations, all of which create extra possessions. And, of course, don't forget Fab Melo, who leads the team in charges taken.
The affect on scoring is notable. Between their low TO rate and PPP allowed, Syracuse only surrenders 9.4 PPG off turnovers. Going the other way, they score 17.8 PPG off of opponent's turnovers. So, not only to the Orange force significantly more turnovers, they're more efficient at turning those turnovers into points. This is certainly helped by the fact that many of those turnovers are steals, which lead to easy transition opportunities.
So, what's the total result? Between turnovers made and offensive rebounds surrendered, Syracuse surrenders 34.8 points per game on extra possessions. Between turnovers forced and offensive rebounds snagged, Syracuse scores 43.3 points per game on extra possessions. That's a difference of 8.5 points per game.
With everything considered, Syracuse proficiency at scoring points off of turnovers is enough to offset whatever points they might surrender on second chances. Is it enough to cover that deficiency all the way to a national title? It's hard to say. Syracuse has consistently been able to turn opponents over and convert those takeaways into buckets, whether they're beating Colgate by 45 or Louisville by one. That sort of consistent defensive effort isn't going to just disappear at tournament time. At the same time, as the percentage numbers show, offensive rebounds are easier to come by than turnovers. So I'd prefer that the Orange be able to rely on getting a key rebound rather than forcing a key turnover. The rebounding numbers are almost shocking and definitely disconcerting, but it's also something that can be corrected. Syracuse can only get better. Given the fact that they've managed to win all but one game even with such a glaring deficiency is not only a testament to their prowess at forcing and converting turnovers, but also a reason to be optimistic. If the Orange can rebound at even a reasonable rate, they could very well be unbeatable.