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As nation’s tallest team, Syracuse is emerging defensively

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They need some really nice things. Better be coming with no strings.

Cornell v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Last season, the Syracuse Orange finished with a defensive efficiency rating of 102.3 per kenpom.com, good bad for a national ranking of 119. That was nothing if not abberational as Syracuse had finished in the top 20 in adjusted defensive efficiency each season dating back to 2009-2010.

At the beginning of this basketball season, Jim Boeheim had said that he liked his team. He said that this team had a chance to be better defensively. He said that he had a really big team, that they needed some really big rings and that they also needed some really nice things. One of the those previous three statements was entirely false and about as germane as a Bill Walton broadcast on bridges or Dick Vitale talking about anything.

If I haven’t lost you at this point, thank you for still paying attention.

Anyway, this Syracuse team certainly fit the mold of a traditional Syracuse zone team with length, athleticism and height to boot. The stats thus far back that up.

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Syracuse
MaRAKE Dolezaj
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse is currently giving up just 61.7 point per game, which is 17th best in the country. Now part of that is tempo related as teams will eat up clock trying to find an open look against the zone and Syracuse tends to be methodic in its half-court offense. But the Orange has been able to disrupt opposing offenses with its length up top and shot-blockers in the middle. Syracuse is No. 4 in the nation in steal percentage and No. 1 in the country in block percentage, per Ken Pom. Frank Howard and Tyus Battle have been active up top and when players get beat, the centers have done a nice job of recovering to block/alter shots at the rim.

What’s more impressive are Syracuse’s rebounding numbers. The Orange are hauling in an absurd 42.1 rebounds per contest, good for 14th best in the country. That number is even more impressive when you consider that Syracuse does this thing called playing zone exclusively. Typically teams that play zone will give up offensive rebounds.

Oshae Brissett has been phenomenal on the glass this season on both ends of the floor and Marek Dolezaj has done an impressive job as well in more limited minutes, especially considering his slender frame (look at the positives). That’s not to mention the centers, who have done serviceable work out of the middle of the zone which can be challenging to board out of at times (Bourama Sidibe when healthy).

Now to be fair, Syracuse hasn’t defended the three-ball very well this season. Opponents have shot 35.3 percent from range against Syracuse which is about average. The Orange just gave up 14 made threes against Colgate and while 35 of Colgate’s 51 field-goal attempts came from distance, the Orange might want to improve on that mark going forward. Contesting threes will be key.

That said, Syracuse has done an excellent job forcing misses from inside the arc. Opponents are just shooting 41.6 percent from two against the Orange which is good for 13th best in the country. Take away Kevin Huerter and Devonte Graham’s respective three point barrages and suddenly Syracuse is looking like a complete defensive team.

Oh, and Syracuse is the tallest team in the country with an average height of 79.8 inches. The next tallest? Duke, with an average height of 79.1 inches.

As the saying goes.

“I’ve got a really big team. They need some really big rings.” -Drake Jim Boeheim, probably