For the first time in Coach Jim Boeheim’s 44 years as head coach, the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team will finish a decade without a season averaging 80 points per game or more. (That is, unless this current Syracuse team starts scoring over 100 every game and goes deep in the postseason.)
From 2010-11 to 2019-20, the Orange have averaged around 71 points per game, with a low of 66.6 in 2017-18 and a high of 76.3 in 2016-17. Syracuse teams have steadily scored less over Boeheim’s tenure, averaging about 76 points per game in the 2000s, 77 in the 1990s, 82 in the 1980s, and 87 in Boeheim’s first four seasons in the 1970s. The Orange haven’t averaged more than 80 points in a season since the 2009-10 and 2008-09 seasons, and before that, since 1994-95.
Another metric that the Orange have dropped in is KenPom’s adjusted tempo, which is the number of possessions a team plays per 40 minutes, adjusted for the opponent. KenPom (Boeheim’s favorite analytics metric) only goes back to the 2001-02 season, but there’s a noticeable drop in Syracuse’s adjusted tempo numbers in the last decade as well. In the last 10 seasons, the Orange have averaged an adjusted tempo ranking of 241.5 out of about 350 Division 1 teams, with a low of 345th in 2017-18 and a high of 100th in 2014-15. The drop-off is noticeable when compared to the 2000s, when SU averaged a ranking of about 78th from 2001-02 to 2009-10, placing as high as 27th in 2007-08.
Although there hasn’t been a strong correlation between wins and/or postseason success and scoring average and tempo for SU, the decline in scoring and pace of play are indicative of several changes in the program.
One is Coach Boeheim’s gradual use and reliance on the 2-3 zone over the years, which has slowed games down and thus lowered the Orange’s scoring. And while SU’s ability to bring in top talent has fallen in recent seasons, it’s the prioritization of defense in recruiting that has also hurt the offense. SU has often gotten players that are less developed on the offensive side of the ball and Boeheim has shown to be perfectly content at times with taking up the entire shot clock as long as his defense is playing at an elite level.
The overall slowing of the Orange’s offense might not last much longer, though. With Boeheim’s retirement likely in the next several years, and Dior Johnson’s commitment for 2022 perhaps leading to a new wave of elite talent for the program, SU’s offense could once again return to the fast pace that we’ve only seen glimpses of in the last decade.