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.

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