The Syracuse Orange are a very good basketball team. We can look at C.J. Fair, Tyler Ennis, Trevor Cooney and Jim Boeheim and we know that this is a very good team. But just how good of a team are the Orange? That's where advanced statistics come in. While Sabermetrics are an exclusive baseball phenomenon, all other sports have turned towards advanced statistical analysis to better identify talent.
In baseball, Bill James developed Win Shares. The idea is to tell just how important a player is to his individual team. In baseball, this has evolved into Wins Above Replacement. In basketball, win shares have been modified to be easier to understand while the formula is still complicated. The Sparknotes version is that by calculation points produced, possessions, marginal offense, defensive rating, marginal defense and then combine all these numbers to get a number directly proportional to the amount of wins a player has earned for his team. (Here's a link to the full explanation and formula if you're interested.)
Another major premise of win shares is that the win shares of a team when added up should come close to the total number of wins a team has. Thus, if a team's total wins exceed their combined win shares, they've been somewhat lucky and inversely, if a team's total wins are lower than the combined win shares then the team has been unlucky, Most teams have win totals higher than combined win shares, showing that yes, luck and extraneous factors (crowd, referees) can impact a game in a way that cannot be measured.
So let's get straight to the fun. Here are the win shares of the main Syracuse Orange rotation of players.
|7||Baye Moussa Keita||22||358||12.7||.540||.543||15.5||12.4||14.0||4.4||1.8||9.3||29.0||8.8||65||109.2||96.7||0.3||0.7||1.1||.118|
I included both Coleman and Roberson because Coleman played in significant games and Roberson is seeing some action off the bench. Ron Patterson is the only other Orange who has gained Win Shares for the Orange, with 0.2. Ennis' 4.1 WS is 20th best the NCAA and second in the ACC behind Lamar Patterson. Also key to note, at this point in the season, the Orange have three players over 3 WS. A 6 WS is the benchmark for a very good player (last year for the Orange it was Fair and Michael Carter-Williams) so that's why this number is important 22 games into a 31 game season. Here's the AP Top 10 teams with the number of 3 WS players with 4 WS players in parentheses.
1. Syracuse: 3 (1)
2. Arizona: 4 (1)*
3. Florida: 2 (0)
4. Wichita State: 3 (2)
5. San Diego State: 1 (1)
6. Villanova: 2 (0)
7. Cincinnati: 2 (1)
8. Kansas: 0 (0)
9. Michigan State: 2 (0)
10. Michigan: 1 (1)
*Arizona's Brandon Ashley is a 3 WS player who is out for the season
It's clear Syracuse is in an upper tier based on number of "very good" players. Wichita State and Arizona are the only other teams with three players who are game changers and can be leaned on. Syracuse fans will argue that C.J. Fair should be included in this category and I'm inclined to agree with his past performance showing no worry for serious regression.
But what about the entire team? What is the difference between Syracuse's 22 wins and the combined WS of players with at least 13 games played? Here's the same top 10 with combined team WS and differential between WS and win total in parentheses.
1. Syracuse: 19.7 (-2.3)
2. Arizona: 20.8 (-0.2)
3. Florida: 18.8 (-0.2)
4. Wichita State: 21.7 (-1.3)
5. San Diego State: 18.6 (-0.4)
6. Villanova: 19.3 (-0.7)
7. Cincinnati: 20.5 (-0.5)
8. Kansas: 15.8 (-0.2)
9. Michigan State: 18.5 (-0.5)
10. Michigan: 16.2 (0.2)
#HotSportsTakes says that the Orange have been very lucky and are not quite as good as Wichita State (who has a game in hand and easier SOS) or Arizona. In reality, pure statistics say that Orange probably should have lost two games by now; we can point to Pitt and Duke as two potential games. Both of those were at home with a immeasurable home court advantage that probably tipped an even scale. The moral of this story is that Syracuse is not leaps and bounds better than Arizona or Wichita State, but almost everyone else in the top ten can be put in a tier below these three except Cincinnati who is riding Sean Kilpatrick until he breaks. Trust me when I say that if you were to do the same with the coach's favorite 7/8 man rotation, the numbers pretty much stay the same with Wichita State getting closer to Syracuse's differential.
The logical conclusion is that the Orange is a top tier team in the NCAA this year. They are definitely one of the top four teams in the NCAA this year. Syracuse statistically has three players who can carry the team with a fourth (C.J.) who has a few really bad games dragging his offensive numbers down. Furthermore, while you can argue the team has been "lucky" in close games this year aided by home court, they are still a top four team with more playmaking options than any other team. This is a great recipe for success only strengthened with the Orange's most valuable player being it's point guard, the proverbial quarterback of the team. Syracuse is an incredibly strong team. The stats back it up.
Thanks to the crew of Sports Reference for the great work they do for free for sports fans.