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What does Syracuse’s NCAA Tournament performance since 2008 tell us?

“Take that for Data!”

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round- Michigan State Spartans vs Syracuse Orange Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

As the Syracuse Orange prepare to take on the Baylor Bears we look to see if we can learn anything from past NCAA performances. This tweet from Bart Torvik led us to take a little closer look at the games in this time period (2008-present).

Clearly the statistic that jumps out here is that Syracuse is 1st in Defensive Efficiency out of this group. Does this really reinforce the theory that the 2-3 zone is the reason for the NCAA success? Well let’s dig into the numbers a bit more and see what we can find.

Syracuse in the NCAA since 2009

Game Syracuse points Syracuse FG% Syracuse 3-pt % Rebounds Turnovers Opponent points Opponent FG% Opponent 3-pt % Rebounds Turnovers
Game Syracuse points Syracuse FG% Syracuse 3-pt % Rebounds Turnovers Opponent points Opponent FG% Opponent 3-pt % Rebounds Turnovers
2009 Stephen F Austin (W) 59 45.5 12.5 51 21 44 24.7 30.8 32 6
2009 Arizona State (W) 78 55.3 63 30 10 67 40.8 37.1 23 9
2009 Oklahoma (L) 71 45 29.2 26 18 84 54.2 42.9 35 18
2010 Vermont (W) 79 54.5 45.5 34 16 56 34.8 22.7 27 9
2010 Gonzaga (W) 87 54.7 48 36 13 65 41.7 14.3 27 11
2010 Butler (L) 59 43.8 36.8 33 18 63 40.4 25 27 7
2011 Indiana St (W) 77 52.3 43.8 33 15 60 40 33.3 22 14
2011 Marquette (L) 62 55.3 33.3 24 18 66 41.2 45.5 28 14
2012 UNC- Asheville (W) 72 44.6 21.7 33 8 65 42.9 39.1 31 12
2012 Kansas St (W) 75 51.1 66.7 31 14 59 31.3 23.5 37 13
2012 Wisconsin (W) 64 55.1 55.6 23 6 63 42.9 51.9 23 6
2012 Ohio St (L) 70 41.5 37.5 22 12 77 41.2 30.8 37 11
2013 Montana (W) 81 51.9 45.5 40 8 34 20.4 12.9 29 17
2013 California (W) 66 39.1 40 35 15 60 39.3 19 33 17
2013 Indiana (W) 61 43.8 40 30 14 50 34 20 30 17
2013 Marquette (W) 55 38 29.4 33 6 39 22.6 12 36 13
2013 Michigan (L) 56 41.8 21.4 32 10 61 39.6 33.3 36 10
2014 Western Michigan (W) 77 49.1 41.2 39 12 53 34.7 22.2 19 13
2014 Dayton (L) 53 38.9 0 29 9 55 41.3 43.8 31 13
2016 Dayton (W) 70 39.6 36.4 45 15 51 32.1 27.3 27 9
2016 Middle Tenn St (W) 75 55.1 40 34 10 50 29.7 33.3 31 9
2016 Gonzaga (W) 63 36.1 33.3 29 9 60 43.6 38.1 33 15
2016 Virginia (W) 68 36.8 33.3 34 7 62 41.5 38.1 30 13
2016 North Carolina (L) 66 40.9 32 31 10 83 53.8 23.5 43 12
2018 Arizona State (W) 60 40.8 35 33 10 56 40.4 34.4 32 9
2018 Texas Christian (W) 57 36.8 21.4 33 6 52 39.6 17.6 29 13
2018 Michigan State (W) 55 35.7 12.5 24 11 53 25.8 21.6 44 14
2018 Duke (L) 65 49 30.8 33 15 69 39.3 19.2 30 7
Wins- 20 68.95 45.795 38.08571429 34 11.3 54.95 35.14 27.46 29.75 11.95
Losses-8 62.75 44.525 27.625 28.75 13.75 69.75 43.875 33 33.375 11.5
NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

When Syracuse has the ball?

Shoot 40% from 3.

It doesn’t seem to matter if the Orange take a lot of threes as long as they make them at a good clip. Syracuse has shot that well in 11 of the 28 games, all wins.

Single-digit turnovers

The only time the Orange have lost when they had less than 10 turnovers is 2014 against Dayton, a game where they didn’t hit a 3-pt shot. You can see how important possessions are in games being played at a slower tempo. Syracuse needs to avoid giving away offensive opportunities and providing their opponents with a chance to score in transition.

It’s pretty incredible that last year’s team won three games where they scored 60, 57 and 55 points but in those three games they only had 27 total turnovers in 125 minutes. When you take care of the ball you can give your team a chance down the stretch.

NCAA Basketball: St. Bonaventure at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

When Syracuse is on defense

Defend the perimeter

Syracuse has only won one game in this time period when their opponent shoots 40% or better on 3-point attempts (how exactly did the Orange beat Wisconsin?). In all eight losses the opposing team shot 39% or better from distance. Syracuse rebounding misses and limiting their turnovers can force teams to face the set defense and avoid the kind of scramble situations which often lead to open shooters.

Rebound missed shots

We all know that the zone makes it harder to rebound, but as we discussed right above keeping teams off the offensive glass is especially important in the tournament. The slower tempo that Syracuse wants to play means that preventing extra opportunities might get teams into a pattern of frustration. Just like turnovers, offensive rebounds offer teams chances to get open looks against the zone.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Pittsburgh vs Syracuse Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The numbers seem to indicate that for Syracuse to be successful the defense will be the key factor. Possessions are going to be at a premium and with short turnaround this time of year, the 2-3 zone provides Syracuse with an advantage that the team must maximize. The Orange can overcome games where they aren’t shooting the ball very well if they take care of the little things. These are the numbers we’ll be watching closely starting on Thursday night.