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Run, Don't Walk, to Victory

You probably ignored it last week.  Hell, if I didn't write it I would have ignored it, too.  So, to refresh your memory, I penned a piece right here on this very Internet web site that made three primary arguments:

  1. Syracuse's three-point shooting acumen wasn't a first-level concern at this juncture of the season;
  2. The Orange's inability to generate opponent turnovers was a major concern;
  3. Syracuse's two-point conversion rate was frustratingly poor, and because of the lack of turnover generation the team was losing out on easy transition opportunities. 

Well, it turns out that I wasn't the only person that saw these issues as the most important things in the world.  In today's The Post-Standard, the delightful Donna Ditota (hey, Donna!) brought these issues to the fore:

Teams can win in the Big East without potent perimeter attacks. If Syracuse struggles on the perimeter – and three games into the season that’s impossible to determine – the Orange still possesses something many other teams do not: The ability to score in transition and change the complexion of the game.

* * * * *

Fast break points have defined Syracuse basketball over the years. The Orange thrives in transition. The fast break connections fuel players’ confidence, allow for easier shots in the open court and can quickly deflate an opposing team.

"Since I’ve been here, we live off getting transition points, just getting out running," SU forward Rick Jackson said. "I don’t think we’re really a team to slow it down, pass it around, take 24 seconds off the clock and things like that. We like to get up and down. We like to run. And I think that’s when we’re at our best."

* * * * *

To do that – to feed off transition – the Orange needs to rebound on the defensive glass and/or force turnovers in its 2-3 zone. SU scored 21 of its 66 points against Detroit in transition. It forced 17 Detroit turnovers. That helped to negate the poor perimeter shooting night.

Straight up: Syracuse basketball has the best beat writers in the country.  I'll put Mike Waters and Ditota up against any crew in the land.  These guys are the antithesis of clown shoes; they're Wall Street wing tips.

Anyway, back to the subject matter at hand: Curing what ails the Orange. As Ditota notes, this is an issue, but how significant an issue is it?  Let's break it down.

The season is still young but with two weeks of games under the nation's collective belt, we can start to see where Syracuse is stacking up in these metrics compared to the rest of the country.  Ready?  Set? Bullet points:

  • The Orange is 134th in defensive steal percentage (10.3).  This is down from 13.6% in 2009-2010.
  • The Orange is third in defensive block percentage (23.7).  We're going to kind of ignore this for now as Syracuse hasn't really run into a team that can challenge them in the paint yet.
  • The Orange is 197th (197th!) in defensive turnover percentage (20.1).  This is significantly down from 2009-2010 when Syracuse was 71st in the land at (22.0).  If you have a red permanent marker, put a star next to this on your computer screen.
  • The Orange is 165th in allowing offensive rebounds (32.1%) and 68th in corralling its own misses (38.2%).  Yup.  Hit the defensive glass, sons.
  • The Orange's tempo (basically, possessions per game) is 70.2, good for 41st nationally.  That's about where Syracuse played last year and it's above the national average.  We're going to attribute this to Syracuse (and their opponents) bricking shots all over the hardwood and creating lots of possessions in that fashion.
  • I'm not going to list it specifically, but Syracuse is still terrible at shooting the ball from inside the paint.

So, what do we know?  Well, first and foremost: Ditota is right and the players know that these metrics require an increased focus.  These are miserable numbers, especially given the Orange's preferred method of play.  I am shocked, SHOCKED!, that Syracuse's defensive turnover percentage is so bad.  To me, this means two things:

  1. Syracuse isn't stealing the ball, they're not creating bad passes that result in turnovers, and they're not getting opponents impatient (forcing walks, charges, and other change of possession activities).
  2. As a result of the first point, the zone isn't quite doing what we all anticipated it would do this season.  Sure, the zone is forcing a ton of shots from beyond the arc (almost the most in the country), but it's not doing those other peripheral things we all hope/believe it can do.  This shouldn't be read as a call to ditch the defense but rather as an increased focus on making it Boeheimian.  This will, hopefully, develop as the team progresses through the season.

Finally, the rebounding.  It's bad.  There's no reason this team should be yielding that many opponent offensive rebounds.  Michigan State is going to eat Syracuse alive if that keeps up.  Hit the glass, fellas, and good things will happen.