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Me First and the Gimmie Gimmies: Is This an Aberration or Some Kind of Awesome Reality?

I wasn't a Newhouse kid when I was at Syracuse, so I don't know if they have a class entitled "NEW 316: Hammering Home Talking Points Until it Makes the Audience Vomit: How You Can Recycle One Nugget of Non-Contextual Nonsense Until the Context is Discovered to be Nausea." So, if that class does exist, my deepest apologies for what follows.

This whole "Syracuse leads the nation in steals per game or something or other" is rapidly approaching "Andy is Leo's Son!" and "Did you know that Tim Welsh once worked for Jim Boeheim?" territory. That's fine and all (even if it is based on the rapidly decreased value attributed to tempo-included statistics); I like the fact that Syracuse is taking the ball away from opponents as punishment for, presumably, being smug enough to think that they have some divine right to possessing the basketball that isn't eroded by the Dion Waiters Doctrine ("What mine is mine and what yours is mine").

What makes me shake my fist at the television in a mildly-intoxicated state is that not only is Syracuse erasing opponent offensive possession opportunities via the turnover at a high rate, the Orange is doing it at a rate that is crazy even under Boeheim standards. When you combine this with the fact that Syracuse is maintaining possession of the bean at a rate that is even high for Boeheim-led clubs, you start to see the brushstrokes that have composed Syracuse's work of art thus far this season.

Don't believe me? Well, look at this chart I made illustrating Syracuse's offensive and defensive turnover rates over the last decade of hoops. We'll discuss it a little more after the jump.

2012 16.3 (9) 28.1 (4)
2011 18.6 (84) 21.3 (94)
2010 21.5 (235) 22.0 (71)
2009 20.6 (192) 18.8 (270)
2008 21.6 (213) 19.8 (229)
2007 20.8 (142) 19.8 (241)
2006 21.2 (159) 22.1 (103)
2005 20.0 (93) 21.4 (147)
2004 18.1 (17) 19.6 (255)
2003 19.4 (48) 20.4 (221)

The number is parentheses is Syracuse's national rank.

Here are some thoughts (feel free to add your own in the comments; gratuitous pictures of angry pandas will automatically be green-lit):

  • I fully expect Syracuse to come back to the pack a little bit, and not because of the resume Boeheim has put together relative to his team's historic turnover percentage performance. The schedule picks up starting tonight and with that you have all kinds of factors in play: Teams have seen the zone in the past (although you can make a really good argument that Boeheim's zone has a different kind of feel to it in 2011-2012 (just like every year)); the Orange are going to run into a bunch of teams that do a better job of possessing the bean (including Seton Hall); injuries. You get the picture. Right now, though, Syracuse is going after the ball unlike it has over the last 10 years.
  • So, who's driving all of this? Dion Waiters (duh) is the primary catalyst: He's fifth-nationally in steal percentage. What is really scary, though, is that it's just not Waiters driving the bus: Scoop Jardine is 18th in the country in the same metric, Brandon Triche is in the top 300, and Instragram Impresario James Southerland is 20th in all of the land (!!!). When you also realize that Syracuse is doing an awesome job at keeping teams on the perimeter -- only about 30 teams see their opponents take more attempts from three-point territory -- the ability of Syracuse's guards and wings to step forward with pressure and into the lanes to deny offensive possession opportunities is downright scary. Also, this is the kind of stuff that keeps Fab Melo, Baye Keita, and Rakeem Christmas (when he isn't making sure everyone on the bench is in their right seats) out of foul trouble. Sexy.
  • A quick word on Syracuse's ability to possess the ball: Jardine is not helping. His individual turnover rate -- 23.3 -- is second worst on the squad (behind only Christmas). That's . . . that's not good. In fact, it's his worst performance since his freshman campaign in 2008. Jardine means a lot to the Orange -- his assist rate is through the roof, he stays out of foul trouble, his defense has been a great benefit, he's the unquestioned leader in the locker room and at the microphone -- but he has to be better with the bean. That assist rate means nothing if it's qualified with him chucking the ball all over the barn. Other than Jardine, though, Syracuse has four guys in the top-400 in individual turnover percentage with Kris Joseph (49th) and James Southerland (9th) leading the way. Pretty nice to see two frontcourt guys not give away opportunities.
  • John Thompson once smacked a child in the mouth for not addressing him as "Your Holiness."
  • If Carter-Williams continues to figure out this whole "Division I basketball" thing, there is a strong-ish possibility that Syracuse will not dramatically fall back to the pack as conference play picks up. At 6-5, the guy has generated a steal percentage of 4.3. Just one more piece to the puzzle that has made Syracuse's zone so freakishly impossible to deal with this year.

I guess the major takeaway from all this is this: This Syracuse team is doing stuff that squads under Boeheim haven't really approached in recent years -- both offensively and defensively.