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Does Syracuse men’s basketball need to slow down?

The key to winning might mean making it ugly

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Following a season in which the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team ranked 345 out of 351 teams in tempo, SU has picked up its pace, ranking 267th nationally this season (as of last night). The true difference between this season and last is 3.2 possessions per game.

Syracuse fans can recall the slow, grind-it-out pace that the Orange imposed upon its opponents last March. It started with an ugly 55-52 win at home against Clemson in a game that SU had to have to make the NCAA Tournament. In the Big Dance, the team’s three wins were deliberate and gutty. The average pace in those games was 61.2 possessions per game — nearly five fewer than Syracuse is averaging so far this season.

Part of the reason Syracuse was playing at such a slow pace was likely out of necessity, as the team went just seven deep and did not have a backup scholarship guard on the roster. This season’s team is deeper, but there is reason to believe that the Orange could once again benefit from slowing down its pace. SU is 5-7 in its 12 fastest-paced games and 11-1 in its 12 slowest-paced games so far this season.

The first caveat to be addressed would be the level of competition in the 12-game sets, so here it is:

Opponent Ranking in Fastest-Paced Games

Team KenPom Ranking
Team KenPom Ranking
(W) Morehead St. 250
(W) @ Duke 3
(L) UConn 92
(L) @ North Carolina St. 37
(L) @ North Carolina 5
(L) Florida St. 17
(W) Georgetown 79
(L) Buffalo 19
(W) Pittsburgh 91
(W) Eastern Washington 269
(L) Georgia Tech 114
(L) Oregon 68

Opponent Ranking in Slowest-Paced Games

Team Kenpom Ranking
Team Kenpom Ranking
(W) Lousiville 23
(W) Notre Dame 88
(W) Boston College 99
(W) Colgate 131
(L) @ Virginia Tech 11
(W) Arkansas State 253
(W) @ Ohio State 33
(W) @ Boston College 99
(W) Northeastern 103
(W) Miami 69
(W) Pittsburgh 91
(W) Cornell 224

The highest-ranked teams Syracuse has beaten in its slowest-paced games were Louisville and Ohio State — tournament teams, for sure. The quality wins in the fastest-paced games includes a win at Duke (minus Cam Reddish and Tre Jones) and... that’s it.

However, it should be noted that Syracuse’s opponents play a role in the pace of each game, too. It is plausible that the slower-paced games are due in part to SU’s opponent having difficulty finding ways to score against the 2-3 zone and frequently winding the shot clock down. This would also be a testament to Syracuse playing well defensively and, for what it’s worth, the Orange defense has (impressively) improved upon last year’s stellar season.

Logical game theory would suggest that a team would be wise to slow a game down against teams that it is worse than. This would increase the variance and therefore give the team a greater shot of beating a better opponent.

So, what do you think? Could Syracuse benefit from reverting to its grind-it-out style of last March?