Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Early Season Dominance

Syracuse is off to a 12-0, the best start since the school went 19-0 in the 1999-2000 season. They are the 10th Orangemen squad to start out the season with twelve wins. I covered all the fast starts in Syracuse basketball a few years ago, so I won’t readdress the issue now. As I had mentioned a few days ago, I was in the process of putting together new information on OrangeHoops.org regarding Syracuse’s performance against ranked teams, and that is now completed.

I’m sure it seems Syracuse is always off to a fast start under Jim Boeheim. And that is not an illusion. With Syracuse’s win tonight against Oakland, the Orangemen are 308-38 in November and December under Boeheim. That’s an 89% winning percentage.

Boeheim’s critics will point out that as evidence of how inflated his record is. It is true that Syracuse does play its share of ‘easy’ games in November and December, just like every other major Division I school. However, it is not true that Boeheim’s winning percentage in these two months is solely the result of playing the easier competition. Syracuse has an outstanding record against ranked teams in November and December. The Orangemen are 22-13 versus top 25 teams in those two months; since the 1988-89 season he is 20-7 versus top 25 teams in the first two months.

Folks, that’s an outstanding number. If you are winning half of your games against Top 25 teams on a regular basis, you are doing an outstanding job. Syracuse has been 11-4 in November, and 11-9 in December against the Top 25. The fact is the Orange win in November and December, regardless of who they play. They have some aberrations (a Cleveland State here, a Drexel there). But you get the point.

Now I realize it is only what you accomplish in March that really matters. But Boeheim does have a National Championship and three Final Fours under his belt. Few coaches have that. And in his three championship games he coached against Bobby Knight, Rick Pitino and Roy Williams. That’s a trio of Hall of Famers he met in the title game.

Overall, Boeheim is 111-123 versus Top 25 teams. Against the best teams in the country, he’s winning 47% of his games. The Orangemen are 46-61 against the Top 10 teams in the Boeheim era. They are winning 43% of their games against the best 10 teams in the country. The Orangemen in that same time span are 17-39 against the Top 5 teams in the country. So when a Boeheim coached team plays one of the five best teams in the country, they’ll win 30% of the time. Basically, they have a one in three chance against the best of the best. I think you have to be pretty good to win at that level.

Boeheim coached teams are 65-78 versus teams ranked higher than the Orangemen (since 1986-87 they are 55-58 against that group). They are winning 45% of the games, on a regular basis, against teams reportedly ranked better than the Orangemen (and this includes when the Orange weren’t ranked and their opposition was). So Jim Boeheim teams are almost even money in games against the better team.

Overall, Jim Boeheim has coached against 287 Top 25 teams. His squad has been ranked in 676 games of the 1099 games he has coached.

Look, Boeheim has his coaching flaws. And his teams have lost some games we thought they were locks in. But they have also won several games they were not supposed to win.

As a side note, I thought there was some interesting ranking information regarding all four of Syracuse’s Final Fours. The 1974-75 squad was never ranked during the regular season; the AP named them #20 during the first round of the NCAA tournament. The 1986-87 team started the season out at #15; they were #10 entering the NCAA tournament. They would be #2 ranked North Carolina in the tournament, and lost eventually by a basket to the #3 ranked Indiana Hoosiers.

The 2005-2006 Orangemen were not ranked to start the season, and reach the Top 25 on December 15th. They would beat #4 ranked Kansas in the tournament, and lose to #2 ranked Kentucky in the final.

The 2002-2003 Orangemen were not ranked to start the season, and would not enter the Top 25 until January 18th. They would beat #3 Oklahoma, #5 Texas and #6 Kansas to win the National Championship.

So being unranked in November, like this year, can lead to a nice ending. Let’s hope so.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

New Feature @ OrangeHoops on Ranked Teams

I have been working recently on a new feature at OrangeHoops that will show Syracuse’s all-time record versus AP Ranked Teams and each Syracuse coach’s individual record. I am also updating the game results pages of OrangeHoops to show the ranking of Syracuse and their opponent for each game.

I have not finished this feature yet; it is a somewhat slow process of getting the data, and updating each page as I translate the results. However, I wanted to announce this early as I have been receiving a lot of questions from loyal Syracuse fans (and readers!) on Syracuse’s performance with regards to ranked teams. I’ve completed the data from the 1948-1949 season through the 1995-1996 season. As a footnote, AP weekly voting did not start until 1948-49.

Once I’ve finished this ‘small’ project, I’ll do some of my customary analysis and commentary. But I wanted to get some of this information out to you all now, as the existing data will help answer many questions.

Just to wet your appetite, here are some highlights in Syracuse basketball history regarding ranked teams:

Syracuse first played a ranked team on February 9, 1949 when they played #20 Duquesne. Syracuse beat the Dukes 65-58 that day. Jack Kiley would lead Syracuse with 21 points.

Syracuse first played the #1 ranked team on March 13th, 1950 versus Bradley in the NIT. Bradley would win that game 78-66, and that would be the last game coached by Lew Andreas who retired after 25 years. As a side note, if you have ever wondered why there are references to the NIT once being as important as the NCAA, take note that Syracuse was playing the #1 team in the country in the post-season NIT. In other words, the #1 ranked team was not even in the NCAA tournament in 1950.

Syracuse’s first win against a Top 10 team occurred the next year, as Syracuse beat #8 Bradley 76-75 on March 31, 1951 to win the National Campus Tournament Championship (a third post season tournament that only hung around for a couple of years). Syracuse would trail in that game 18-0, before making a remarkable comeback. Jack Kiley would lead Syracuse with 12 points.

Syracuse’s first win against a Top 5 team did not occur until March 1, 1983 against Villanova, when the Orangemen beat the #4 Wildcats 79-70 at the Carrier Dome. Erich Santifer would lead the Orangemen with 21 pts.

Syracuse’s first win against a #1 Team was on January 28, 1985 against Georgetown. Syracuse beat the Hoyas 65-63. Rafael Addison would lead the Orangemen with 26 points.

The first time Syracuse was ranked #1 was the 1987-1988 preseason ranking. Syracuse would play #3 ranked North Carolina in the Tip Off classic, and lose a close one 96-93. Rony Seikaly would lead the Orangemen in scoring with 23 points.

The Orangemen were ranked #1 for 11 games over 6 weeks in 1989-1990, from November 27th until January 8th. They started that year at #3 in the preseason poll, but moved to #1 before playing any games as #1 Missouri and #2 LSU lost early November games. Their last game as a #1 ranked team was on January 6th, 1990 versus the unranked Villanova Wildcats. The Orangemen lost that game 93-74.

The last time Syracuse beat a #1 team was on March 7, 2006 when the beat Connecticut on their historic Big East Title run, with the Orangemen winning four games in four days to take the title by Gerry McNamara’s MVP performance.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Win over Florida

The Orange are now 9-0, having knocked off their third top 15 team of the season. The Orange should go to 12-0 before the start of the Big East season on December 29th, but of course, upsets do happen. It was only a year ago that a 9-0 Syracuse team did lose to Cleveland State, at home.

I had mentioned three years ago that there were fifteen teams in Syracuse history to start a season 10-0. A win over St. Francis will make this year’s squad the 16th to accomplish that feat. Brandon Triche’s cousin Jason Hart was the starting point guard on the last Syracuse squad to win its first ten games, the 1999-2000 squad. That team would eventually go 19-0 before losing its first game.

Brandon Triche’s uncle, Howard, would help the Orangemen start out 15-0 in the 1986-1987 season. Only a jump shot by Keith Smart in the final seconds prevented the Orangemen from winning the National Championship that year. And Andy Rautins' father, Leo, help lead the 1982-1983 Orangemen to an 11-0 start.

Speaking of Andy Rautins, he is simply putting up some amazing statistics early in this season, despite playing only about 24 minutes a game. Rautins now has 49 assists and 19 turnovers after the first nine games of the season. Now keep in mind that Andy Rautins is a shooting guard, a guy who many thought was too slow and too weak to play major Division I basketball. He is on pace for roughly 200 assists for the season, with 80 turnovers, a 2.6 assist to turnover ratio. If Rautins were playing 39-40 minutes a game, he would be averaging about 9 assists a game. Jonny Flynn last season, playing 39-40 minutes a game, had 6.7 assists per game, and a turnover/assist ratio around 2.0.

Rautins is shooting 48% from three point range, 25-52, after having an off-night going 2-7 against Florida. He had no steals, which was unusual for this season for him; Rautins has 30 steals for the season. Jonny Flynn led the Orange last season with 54 steals, for the entire 38 game season. Rautins current pace puts him at around 120 steals for the year. The Syracuse record is 101 by James Thues in 2001-02. And keep in mind, that Rautins is only playing 24 minutes a game right now.

I don’t anticipate those numbers to hold up all season, but it really points out how well Rautins has been doing.

Rick Jackson had an outstanding first half last night. I love the fact that Syracuse is feeding the ball inside to Jackson and Onuaku this year. Good things happen when you offensively get the ball near the hoop. Offensive rebounds happen (Syracuse had 16 last night), opposing defensive players get in foul trouble, and the perimeter shooters get open looks. I like how Kris Joseph is defining his own role as the fast wing player who plays when the Orange need speed over size (Onuaku, sit down). Another stellar night by Wes Johnson (17 pts, 10 rebounds).

The Orange are fun to watch this year. They are playing a good brand of team basketball right now, and I hope that attitude stays with the squad all season long.

By the way, the Florida game is a neutral court game as it was part of the SEC/Big East Challenge, and was played on neither school’s home court. It’s not like the University of Florida is anywhere near Tampa; it’s a massive 132 miles away, a 2 hour 6 minute drive. Syracuse is 1144 miles away (an 18 hour 30 minute drive). Then again, I’m sure Dick Vitale and company would point out that Florida had to drive the whole 132 miles, while Syracuse simply had to drive about 12 minutes to the Hancock Airport, then fly to Tampa, and then drive a few miles to the Tampa arena. Definitely no home court advantage for Florida in this one, unlike Syracuse which has Madison Square Garden in its back yard (it’s very big back yard). All sarcasm aside, I don't mind this game being a neutral court game; it was on a 'neutral' court. Just remember to give Syracuse the same respect about its other two 'neutral' court games at Madison Square Garden.