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We need to stop waiting for Syracuse’s three-point shooting to turn around

The numbers actually show the Orange are better near the basket.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 11 NC State at Syracuse Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There have been a lot of conversation around the Syracuse Orange in regards to the three-point shooting slump that’s impacted the team, but what if we’ve been looking at the wrong numbers all along? Despite the gaudy amounts of shots made from behind the arc, the underlying statistics show that Syracuse has been demonstratively better the more it attacks the basket.

According to Synergy Sports, Syracuse ends 61.8% of their half-court possessions with jump shots — 755 possessions to be exact which have resulted in 658 points. That puts the Orange in the 23rd percentile nationally. In comparison the 28.4% of possessions which end up with shots around the basket have led to 429 points in 347 possessions which is in the 91st percentile.

When we dig into those jump shot statistics a little further, that’s where the differences really jump out. Syracuse has been launching from deep without hesitation all season long, but you have to question that approach. The Orange are taking 68.9% of their jump shots from outside the 3-point line and they are in the 24th percentile from that distance getting only 0.938 points per possession.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Compare this to the Louisville Cardinals who are taking 76.3% of their jumpshots from 3 but are scoring 1.103 points per possession. Now the analytics show that if you can hit at a decent clip from 3 it’s worthwhile, but for the Orange it’s reached the point where it’s hurting more than helping. To put it simply, Syracuse isn’t maximizing the 3-point shot in a way that makes it an effective weapon.

There’s this notion that because Syracuse lacks a true low-post scorer that the Orange are a smaller team, despite starting one of the taller lineups in college basketball. The threat of the three-point shot and the ability of Marek Dolezaj to pull another post defender out of the lane are factors in Syracuse’s success scoring in the paint. In ACC play, Syracuse is 4th in the league in 2-point field goal percentage, but ranks only 11th in the number of field goals attempted. In contrast the Orange ranks 4th in 3-point field goal attempts but are only shooting the 7th best percentage.

It’s pretty clear by the numbers that Syracuse should continue to increase the focus on getting the ball into the lane, but Orange players and coaches were still talking about making deep shots after last week’s games.

Boeheim said. “Joe got it going. He was really good. He’s playing good defensive players. He kept us in the game. He just can’t make his threes. Obviously he had a great game but he’s 1-for-10 from the 3-point line and he can make those. Sometimes he rushes those. I think there was one tough 3. The rest were ones he could make....”

Girard said. “It’s a whole team thing. We fought hard. If I made two more open 3s that’s six points and we would have won.”

I applaud the confidence here, but just because someone can make them doesn’t mean they are actually making them — and that’s what Syracuse is ignoring right now. You can say “Well they lost by 5 and shot 1 for 19 from 3 so that won’t happen again” or you can say “If we passed up 5 or 6 of those long 3s and took advantage of our size to get into the lane”. Sticking to this identity of a 3-point shooting team when the numbers don’t back it up seems kind of counterproductive at this crucial part of the season.

If you want to focus on what this Syracuse team does the best offensively: well as John wrote about last week, the Orange remain at their best in transition, staying in the 96th percentile in this area. Want to shoot 3s? Then shoot them in transition when they are most successful. If you can’t rebound or defend well enough to run (ACC opponents are shooting over 51% on 2-point attempts against the Orange) then you have to run the offense and attack the lane more.

As the Orange come down this final stretch we shouldn’t be asking when the team’s three-point shooting will improve, we should be asking why keep shooting so many?