Friday, December 29, 2006

Statistics I'd Like to See

One of my pet peeves is to hear someone state that statistics are meaningless. Anyone familiar with this blog or my website, would easily deduce that I do place value into the numbers of the game. I do not think that statistics tell the whole story, but you can certainly tell a heck of a lot about a player from his statistics, and given the right statistical information you can predict a lot of future performances.

Let’s say you have two college players. Player A scores 25 points a game with 10 rebounds, 7 blocked shots, and 5 assists a game, while shooting 60% from the floor and 85% from the free throw line. Player B scores 9 points a game, with 2 rebounds, 0.5 blocked shots, 1 assist a game, while shooting 35% from the floor and 50% from the free throw line. Assuming no injury is impacting Player B’s statistics, I don’t think anyone would argue that Player B is better than Player A, even though you had not seen either player perform. Clearly, the statistics have some meaning.

Similarly, if Player C scores 17.9 points a game, and player D scores 17.1 points a game, there’s no conclusion at all that can be reached about the value of those two players, other than the fact they both average roughly 17 points a game. In this case, they have little meaning.

I think there are three reasons why a segment of fans disregard statistical evidence. First, is what I would call the Jeter Effect. I plan to write more about this concept at some other time, but suffice it to say it is when you place extreme value on the intangibles of a player and credit him with every good thing that ever happened, and throwing out all statistical evidence because it doesn't measure the intangibles.

The second is a segment of our population is poor at math, and anything to do with numbers to them is inherently bad. There’s really no way to convince these individuals that numbers can be good (there’s probably some of them who would argue that I can’t tell that Player A is better than Player B given my scenario above).

The third reason is that we are often given the wrong set of numbers, or incomplete information. And basketball is full of false numbers. If you don’t look at statistics in the proper context, they give a false impressions. I’m amazed when fans are impressed by a NBA player scoring 40 points in a given game when he’s shot 18 for 48 for the night. Heck, you take 48 shots, you had better score 40 points! Now 40 points on a 20 for 26 shooting effort is quite impressive. Extremely impressive.

When Wilt Chamberlain scored his record 100 points, the overlooked statistic is that The Stilt shot 28-32 from the free throw line that night. That's absolutely amazing, for any player, much less a guy who shot 51% from the line for his career. He was also 36 of 63 from the floor that night, a solid 57%. His 100 point night was a truly amazing night, even for him. Anyhow, I am sidetracked at the moment.

Cuse Country did an excellent job a week ago showing how offensive rebounding can be quite misleading, so I won’t go too much into it here. But simply put, the number of rebounds in a game are a combination of an individual’s ability to get a rebound combined with the number of missed shots. If there were no missed shots in a game, there would be no rebounds. So if a team shots 60% from the floor there will be less opportunity for rebounds than if a team shoots 30% from the floor. And you do need to factor that in, somehow. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, nobody tracks that information in college basketball.

There are other statistics that I think could be useful in providing us all with a clearer picture of what a player has accomplished. And as such, here are the five statistics I would like to see in college basketball.

Earned Rebound Average (ERA): I figure there are roughly 25 missed baskets a game, by each team [We could use any number, but 25 will do; it is all relative]. So in a given game, there are approximately 50 opportunities for a rebound. The ERA would be [number of rebounds] / [missed baskets by both teams] * 50. So if Player A had 10 rebounds in a game where both teams missed a combined 42 shots, then he would have an ERA of 11.90.

Assists In the Paint (AIP): Assists were designed to help show how another player, especially a point guard, has helped set up his teammates for baskets. I would like to see assists broken down a few ways. One way would be to show Assists in the Paint. This is the number of assists a player has to players who have scored while they were inside lane (‘the paint’). I think an assist to a player taking a perimeter jumper is valuable, especially if the point guard has driven into the lane and pulled defenders off the perimeter shooter, but sometimes that feels ‘cheap’ to me. AIP would at least allow us to quantify the different types of assists a player gets.

Free Throw Assists (FTA): We have all seen the spectacular pass to the inside player who goes up for the basket and is fouled hard by the opposition, missing what would have been a sure basket. The player gets to the free throw line, but the player who passed him the ball gets no credit. I think the purpose of the Assist is to measure how well a player sets up his teammates; and clearly, in these situations, he set them up well, and he should be given some credit. I would not tie the statistic to whether or not the player makes the free throws [why penalize a guy because his teammate is poor free throw shooter?]; if the guy gets fouled in the act of shooting, the player passing the ball should bet an FTA. Can you imagine how many FTA Sherman Douglas would have had?

Defensive Plus / Minus (+/-): I’m stealing a concept from hockey here. Defense is extremely difficult to measure statistically. Guys who block a lot of shots often are well out of position and actually playing poor defense, while other guys are holding their ground and preventing the other team from scoring by playing smart defense. That never gets measured. You cannot really look at how a guy does statistically against the guy he is ‘matched up against’. First of all, that has no value in a zone defense… the defender is guarding an area, not a specific player. Second of all, double teams occur, players switch off, etc. A +/- would be the difference in points scored by a team against points given up by a team during the time the player is on the court. Sure, a player would be hurt by being on the court with bad defensive players, but it would give us an additional measurement of how he is doing. A basketball player is 1/5 of the defense when he is on the court, so he’s going to have some impact, plus or minus.

Free Throw Percent broken down by First & Second Effort: We know a guy shoots 70% from the free throw line. But what we do not know is does he usually make the front end of a one and one, or does he miss it. There’s a big difference between shooting 60% on the front end, and 80% on the back end, versus 80% on the front end and 60% on the back end.

Assume two players; both are fouled 100 times in one and on situations. Player E shoots 65% on first effort, 80% on second. He would make 65 free throws out of 100 first attempts (65% of 100), and then 52 out of 65 (80% of 60 second attempts). He would score 117 points and shoot 117 of 165, or 71%.

Player F shoots 80% on the first effort, and 60% on the second. He would make 80 free throws out of 100 first attempts (80% of 100), and then 48 out of 80 (60% of 80 second attempts). He would score 128 points and shoot 128 out of 180, or 71 %.

Both players shoot 71% from the line, but Player F scored 11 more points for his team, which his clearly more valuable.

Now I do not know what the difference between shooting the front end and back end of a one and one are. But I think I would believe there is a difference. The second free throw attempt the player has the confidence of making the first one, less pressure since a second shot is not dependent upon it, and the player is more relaxed since more time has passed since he was actively playing.

I’m sure there are more statistics we could come up with. Let me know if you have any. I would love to have access to these five. With today’s technology, I could go throw line by line of every Syracuse game and derive these numbers myself. But frankly, I don’t have the time. I think it would be revealing. These aren't the answers to everything, but sure do help to answer some questions.

At the least, it would help paint a better picture of what the player was actually doing on the court. Who knows, we may actually find out if Craig Forth was indeed a better player than Jeremy McNeil? Or if Paul Harris or Eric Devendorf is a better two-guard.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to you all. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday, and Santa Claus is kind to you this season!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Devo's Okay

A lot of rumors have been floating around about Eric Devendorf regarding the lack of playing time he's had, his performance while on the court, and his demeanor off the court. Jim Boeheim respect's the privacy of his players, and is usually mum about their personal business, leaving it up to the player to decide if he wants it to be public knowledge or not. In absence of real information, this fuels the rumor mill for the Orange Fan Nation.

Well, Devo played well last night against Hofstra, and opened up to WTVH News on what's been going on.


To Zone or Not

The Orangemen’s free throw shooting was outstanding tonight; what’s in the water on the Hill these days? 33 of 40 for the team (it did help that my whipping boy Terrence Roberts was out of the game, though even he went 3-4 the other day). 21 of 24 versus Drexel the other evening. But I recently wrote about good free throw shooting (prior to the Orangemen’s recent improvement), so I thought I’d mention a few things about zone defense (in general). Just to be different. And perhaps there's a correlation to the Orangemen's improvement and the topics I choose (Isn't that every fan's dream?).

Syracuse’s zone defense was a big key in the win over Hofstra tonight, 85-60. "Syracuse's size and length when they are in that zone and their ability to come out and contest shots made it very difficult," Hofstra coach Tom Pecora said. "They did a very good job of extending their zone, and we weren't able to make plays on the baseline." (AP).

So for the holiday weekend, here are five reasons why I would use a zone defense, and then six more reasons why and when I would not.

First the reasons for the zone.

Reason 1: Teams are unfamiliar with running an offense against it, and any defense that is unfamiliar, is too tough for another team to quickly adjust to it. It is also tough for them to mimic it during practice during the week. I am a huge fan of running an offensive / defensive scheme in any sport that other teams are unfamiliar with. I think in addition to the strategic advantage, it gives you a big recruiting advantage (I was a huge fan of the Orangemen’s pass option offense for that reason, and I think for close to a decade the Steelers had a huge advantage in the NFL being one of the only teams to run a 3-4 defense).

There are types of players that are well suited for the zone defense that don’t necessarily work well in a man-on-man. Players like Kueth Duany and Hakim Warrick are perfect for zone defense work; less suited for man-on-man where they could get muscled around. They are slender and long limbed; they reach into a lot of space, and quickly move to areas on the court. Similarly, big bodied slow players with a good court IQ are perfect for the center position on the zone (guys like Craig Forth). They don’t have to put up a lot of stats, but they take up a lot of space, preventing opposing teams from running players through the middle of the court. Demetris Nichols has the prototype body to excel at playing forward in a zone defense.

Reason 2: When played well, the zone defense is highly successful at reducing shooting percentage. The zone defense invites teams to take the low percentage shot (which is what you want to happen); the opponent thinks they have an open shot, but it’s one the defender can quickly close on and force the opponent to shoot. When guys stay focused on defense, and don’t wander from their zone duties, it reduces the impact of offenses running picks and screens (because a defender is guarding a space, not a player, and a pick works because you are preventing a defender from following the player as he moves from one space to another).

Plus, you can very effectively trap from a zone, particularly in the corners of the court. The zone defense invites the offensive to swing the ball around the perimeter, and you can draw them into swinging it into the corner for a designed trap.

Reason 3: It slows down the opposition’s offense and the clock is your friend. You have to work the ball around the zone to break it down. Many teams are impatient of offense, looking for the quick strike. This causes turnovers and frustration for the opposition.

Reason 4: It can help protect a guard who is in foul trouble. Since he doesn’t have individual player responsibility he can lay off the opponents in his area a little bit, and reduce his risk of a foul.

Reason 5: You can run a fast break well off a well played zone defense. Since the guards don’t have a man responsibility, it’s easier for one of them to break out down court during the defensive rebounding phase (the other guard needs to stay ‘home’ and rotate into a block out).

Now there are definite reasons why I would stay away from the zone at times in a game.

Reason 1: You can not hide a big man in a zone, and if he’s in foul trouble he can quickly draw more. If Darryl Watkins has 4 fouls, the opposing team just needs to attack the center of the zone. If Watkins shies from the player, that player gets an easier basket. And if he challenges him, he’s increasing the risk of the foul.

Reason 2: If the opposing team is having a very hot night of shooting, they may be stretching your zone defense out too far, opening up the low entry pass too much. Sometimes the other team is playing well, no matter how well your zone is doing, and you’ve got to switch out of it.

Reason 3: If you’re trailing in the game and need to make up points with time running short, the zone defense eats up too much time. At this point the clock is your enemy, and you need to make the opposing team’s offense act quickly.

Reason 4: You’re players are too physically or mentally tired. Contrary to what many people think, playing an effective zone is very tiring and requires a lot of movement. Zone defensives fail when players start to stand around, or get lost in the scheme. Man-to-man defense, while also tiring, is more intuitive for a player to keep moving… the nature of following one man on defense motivates the defender to keep moving.

Reason 5: You have the wrong personnel to play the zone. Small players like Josh Wright are not the ideal players for the top of a zone; he’s more effective in a man defense situation where he can get up close to an opponent and hound him around the court; if the opposition has a big shooting guard, they could overload to Wright’s side of the court and create mismatches.

Great shot blocking centers can often be a detriment to your zone defense. While they clean up the mistakes of their teammates, they often leave their position to do so; one of the biggest sins in a zone defense is leaving your space unguarded. If the shot blocker leaves his space, someone else needs to rotate into the position. So if your defensive players don’t know what they are doing, they will leave openings everywhere on the court that smart opponents will take apart.

Reason 6: It’s tough to block opponents out in the zone defense. The defender is responsible for a space, not a player, and when the ball goes up for a shot, he’s got to block out a space anticipating an opponent being there, while looking for the rebound. In man defense, he likely already has a position next to his opponent, and can feel where he is while looking for the rebound.

One of the biggest reasons I think coaches don’t play zone defense is that you look bad when the opposition beats it, and it makes it look like you’re not coaching. It’s very easy for a fan to second guess the zone. When the opposition is making its shots, it looks like you’re not defending at all. And when they are missing their shots, you often don’t get credit; people just credit the poor shooting to poor shooting, not your defense.

Whereas if you are playing man-to-man defense, your players are moving around constantly. If you get beat, the fans will blame the players, because its easy to see which players got beat by their individual man.

It’s akin to coaches playing ‘prevent defense’ in the NFL. Most coaches will do it, even though it’s been proven over and over again, that all the prevent defense really does is prevent the defensive team from winning. But if an NFL coach were to play his normal defense and one of his defensive backs gets beat deep, it’s the coach’s fault for playing a defense that allowed that. Whereas if you play a ‘prevent defense’, it’s the greatness of the opposing team’s quarterback moving the ball down the field (even though your defense is inviting him to do that!).

There are situations for all types of defense in college hoops. I’m an advocate for a healthy mix of them, particularly switching the zone and man-to-man during the regular flow of the game. It requires discipline on the court and a good court leader to get that message across.

Bottom line, no matter what defense you play, if you execute it well, you will win more often than not. And likewise, when you play your defense poorly you will likely lose.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Orange vs. Drexel

Just a few comments out of the disappointing loss to Drexel tonight:

Last time Syracuse had 3 losses in a season by December 19th was in the 1998-1999 season. That team started out 7-3, and had its 3rd loss by December 12th. That was an experienced team too, with juniors Jason Hart, Ryan Blackwell, Etan Thomas, and sophomores Allen Griffin and Damone Brown in the starting lineup. They would make the NCAA tournament but lose in the first round to Oklahoma State.

Glad to see Demetris Nichols finally get over 30 points, totaling 31 on a decent effort. He’s the first SU player to score 30 since Gerry McNamara scored 30 versus Louisville last February 18th, and the most points scored since GMac had 38 versus Davidson almost one year ago today (12/18/2005). Last small forward to score 30+ for Syracuse was some obscure guy named Carmelo Anthony, with 30 versus Texas in the Final Four, March 18, 2003. Nichols has been on a scoring tear averaging 27.8 ppg his last four games.

Unfortunately this team is looking a lot like last year regarding the offense. A bunch of guys standing around letting a senior take on the whole burden and carrying the offense. Take last years’ team, replace GMac with DNic, and it looks very similar (on offense).

I’ve been bashing Terrence Roberts all year with friends. I think he’s a lousy shooter, clearly a horrendous free throw shooter, has terrible hands, and is a turnover waiting to happen. He does make occasional defensive plays, but not consistently, and while leading the team in rebounding, he again is inconsistent there. He’s one of those guys who looks like he should be a much better player than he is. Having said all that, SU needs him on the court. With the loss of Onuaku, the Orange have no alternative at power forward, and even with his shortcomings Roberts is the best they have. Without him on the court in the second half tonight, it was obvious the damage other teams could do to the Orangemen.

Also regarding the Terrence Roberts free throw watch: Roberts was on fire from the line tonight, going a blistering 3-4 from the line, raising his season average to 43.3% on 22-52, and his career average is now at 136-291, 46.7%. Don't worry... he's still got the career record in the bag.

The Orangemen shot 87.5% (21-24) from the free throw line? Unbelievable. Not only was Roberts hot from the line, but Darryl Watkins goes 4 for 4? Wow. And they still lost?

Andy Rautins started again; not a bad game but not a great one either. Jim Boeheim sees these guys in practice everyday, and he knows the team’s strengths and weaknesses better than any of us. That and 30 years of coaching give him a huge edge on any of us; so I trust he knows what he’s doing. I know Rautins has tremendous court IQ. I just wish I knew what was up with Eric Devondorf… he’s clearly a shell of his former self. Paul Harris has his weaknesses, but is still getting the playing time and impact off the bench. But Devo has completely fallen apart.

SportsCenter No More

I used to be a faithful watcher of ESPN’s SportsCenter. In the early 90s a friend asked me why I enjoyed it so much, and after thinking about it for a while, the answer was simple:

The rest of the world news was depressing, about violence, things gone bad, things gone wrong. But sports news, and specifically ESPN, was always good stuff. It was about who won this, who won that; what adversities people had overcome. Generally good stuff. Occasionally you'd have bad news (Magic's HIV; Steve Olin & Tim Crews death; cheating in sports, etc); but the bad news was rare, and when it occurred, it helped ground you into reality (a little). And if there was truly significant world news that needed to be covered, ESPN would cover it.

So watching SportsCenter each night was a pleasure.

Mid 90s I stopped watching it religiously, and now I almost never watch. Partly because my children were born, and the reality of what was truly important came along. But also the sports news started to take a nasty turn. Now it was no longer about who was winning, but it was about the corruption in sports, the endless cheating, the drug use, the Pete Rose betting scandal, etc. It seems to me it’s now all about tearing people down, rather than building them up.

Today, no matter how small the incident, it gets blown up into huge proportions and gets endless play over the internet, radio and television. Perhaps the media is just a reflection of our society; people only want to tear down others, and so the media panders to them. I know I’ve talked to a lot of fans who seem to behave that way. I’ve known many past co-workers whose joy in life seemed to be tearing down all aspects of management around them.

You know, if you look hard enough, there’s bad in everything. But there’s a lot of happiness and joy out there, good things going on. Paul Harris was over hyped beyond belief this year; it was almost impossible for him to meet the expectations of fans. But if you sit back and watch him play, you’ll see a young man playing with a lot of intensity and hard work, a real joy to watch play. He’s having a heck of a freshman season, making a difference out there.

Dick Vitale used to be great for college basketball. He over hyped everything, but he was a ball of positive energy. Every player was great! Everyone on his all-Windex team, everyone a diaper dandy, everyone an all-American. Now days, it appears that Vitale is like so many others on television; he takes advantage of his airtime, gets on his soapbox and preaches, instead of doing what truly was gifted at doing… making others feel good.

And now, I realize, I’ve been on my soapbox too long… so I’ll step down. Good day.


Free Throw Update

We could spend time debating who should be in the starting rotation for the Orange, or the obvious flaws in this years squad, or the clear potential for growth they have. But history is upon us, and feel a duty to keep all Orange fans updated.

At this point, it seems clear that Terrrence Roberts is going to get the Syracuse career record for worst free throw shooting, ever. After his 0-1 performance against Baylor last Saturday, Roberts is now 19-48 for this season, a 39.6% clip, dropping his career performance to 133-287, 46.3%. He's clearly putting up the strong effort to keep his numbers well below Stephen Thompson's career mark. So now the question for Roberts is how low of a bar can he set? I have enough confidence in Roberts to believe he can set a mark that no future Orangemen would ever reach (nor would we ever want to see).

Darryl Watkins had a chance to challenge Roberts, but Mookie ruined his opportunity last weekend with a stellar 7-10 performance from the line, raising his season to 14-24, 58%. More importantly for Watkins at this point is that magical 50% career free throw mark. Currently he sits at 80-161, 49.7%. One more made free throw, and he's at an even 50%. I have no doubt Watkins will surpass that mark; if not for a 3-18 performance as a freshman, he would already be above 50% for this career.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Former Orangemen

If you're curious what former Orangemen are still playing professional basketball and where, I would recommend visiting Cuse Country. They've been doing an excellent job of providing updates on how former Syracuse players are doing not only in the NBA (Carmelo Anthony, Hakim Warrick, Jason Hart and Etan Thomas), but also how they are doing in the US minor leagues (CBA, ABA and NBDL) and how they are doing overseas (Italy, Belgium, Finland, Japan, and Bahrain).
They have their blog conveniently set so you can check the archive of the former players if you want to catch up on past updates.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Sometimes They Do Make The Easy Ones

As previously mentioned, Syracuse has a history of poor free throw shooting. But to be fair to the boys on the Hill, there have been some squads that have been down right decent from the charity stripe. It just never seems that way.

When evaluating a team’s effort, I decided it was more appropriate to look at how many of the primary players (i.e. in most cases starters) were good free throw shooters that season, using a 70% standard as a break mark. 70% isn’t great, but it's okay… and if you have four starters shooting 70% or more, I think you’re in pretty good shape; that is limiting the free throw shooting liability to just one guy on the court, and you can probably hide him. 70% is not Gerry McNamara numbers… but then again, no other player in Syracuse history has had GMac free throw numbers (some are close, but he’s the tops).

So going backwards from this year, here are the good shooting squads from the Hill. And surprisingly, one wasn’t too long ago.

The 2000-2001 team had four starters shooting better than 70% from the charity stripe, with Damone Brown leading the way at 79.1%. Included in that group was Allen Griffin 71%, DeShaun Williams 76%, and Preston Shumpert 76%. That’s a pretty decent group when you have three starters shooting better than 75% from the line. They had the black hole of Jeremy McNeil / Billy Celluck in the middle, neither of whom could buy a free basket; but neither were significant scorers in the first place, and the two combined only went to the free throw line 56 times that year.

1993-1994 had four starters over 70%, with Adrian Autry leading the charge at 78.4%. John Wallace 76%, Luke Jackson 76%, and Lawrence Moten 70% rounded out the foursome. Again, a hole at center with Otis Hill (58.5%) and J.B. Reafsnyder (60%). The center duo did take 105 free throws between them, so it did hurt the Orangemen a little. And truth be told, Moten’s actual number was a smidge under 70% if we included the decimal (69.8%).

1991-1992 wasn’t too bad. Lawrence Moten led the way at 75% and made the most. Adrian Autry shot 70%, as did Conrad McRae (surprise!); Dave Johnson was a hair better at 71%. The weak link on that starting five? SU’s venerable assistant coach Mike Hopkins at a lowly 63%. Ironically, he was one of the perimeter shooters!

1985-1986 had some shooters. Wendell Alexis, in his first season as a starter led the way at 81%. Raf Addison was just behind at 79%. The Pearl, a clutch free throw shooter, was 73%, and Howard Triche was at 70%. Rony Seikaly held up his end in the reputation for centers, as he shot a lowly 56%.

1984-1985 also could shoot. The Pearl was probably the best that season, at 78%. Michael Brown had the highest percent at 87%, but with only 23 free throw attempts on the season, he hardly counts. Raf Addison came in at 73% and Andre Hawkins was a pleasant surprise at 76%. Rony Seikaly was again the hole in the middle at 56%. Wendell Alexis came off the bench with significant playing time and free throw attempts at 77%.

1983-1984 had Raf Addison leading the way at 84%. Sean Kerins 79%, Andre Hawkins 74%, and Gene Waldron 74% rounded out the four. The Pearl was the weak link at 66% that season. Wendell Alexis was a deadly free throw shooter as the top reserve at 82%.

I think it’s noteworthy that those three consecutive seasons previously mentioned were pretty good from the line. They were teams that were playing in the hey day of the Big East, and didn’t have quite as much talent as the monster Georgetown, St. John’s and Villanova squads. Yet, the Orange had some of their best fundamental players (Addison and Alexis), decent free throw shooting to keep them in games, and of course, one of the greatest clutch players in Orange history, the Pearl.

1980-1981 SU had Marty Headd at 88% leading the way, until he broke his wrist (Tony Bruin was a big drop off at 69% when he entered the starting lineup as a result of the injury). Danny Schayes took the bulk of the free throw attempts at 82%; Erich Santifer was 73% and Leo Rautins 79%. Eddie Moss was the low man at 69%, which isn’t too bad for the worst of the starting five.

And finally, 1971-1972 needs a special note. Of the top eight players in terms of playing time, only two had free throw shooting that was even half way decent. However, those two shot the lights out, and they had 55% of the total attempts for the team that season. Greg Kohls shot a blistering 86% on a huge 222-257, while Mike Lee was 142-171 for 83%. So while you couldn’t say the team was very good, when over 55% of your free throw attempts are by an 83% or better shooter, that’s pretty good. Kohls was a master perimeter shooter, and was very adept at drawing fouls (as the free throw attempts suggest).

I have limited stats prior to the late 60’s on free throw shooting, so evaluating team efforts earlier than that is difficult. There were some outstanding individual free throw shooters in the 60s (Dave Bing, John Suder, Richie Cornwall, and Rick Dean).

As a side note, prior to 1924, the NCAA rule regarding free throws was that any player on the court could take a free throw when a foul was committed. So teams had designated free throw shooters (there were rarely substitutions in games). Obviously, in this setup, a team with one excellent free throw shooter, would be an outstanding free throw shooting ‘team’ (albeit a team of one). Joe Schwarzer and Wilbur Crisp were noted to be outstanding during their era, so one could suppose those teams were excellent free throw shooting squads.

So while many Orangemen have broken our hearts by missing the easy ones, there were clearly some squads who brought us some joy from there… it just seems so hard to remember them!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Roberts Followup

Perhaps inspired by the opportunity to set the school career mark, Terrence Roberts went 0-5 from the charity stripe on Saturday against Colgate, making him 19-47 on the season. He's now at 40.4%. Roberts may be getting greedy here, going for both the career AND season free throw shooting records (the latter he already holds).

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Roberts Shoots for the Record

Poor free throw shooting is identified with the Orangemen as much as snow is identified with Syracuse. It seems every season free throw woes are a curse, in one form or another. Most fans can recall freshman Derrick Coleman missing the front end of a one-and-one with 30 seconds remaining in the 1987 title game; if DC makes one or both, the outcome of the game could very well have changed. Hakim Warrick missed on towards the end of the 2003 title game, though his block erased that error.

This season is no exception, as Terrence Roberts is continuing his effort to prove he is the worst of the worst in Orange basketball history. Roberts started this season with a career percentage of 47.7% (114 for 239), and is moving along at a 45.2% clip this season (currently at 19 of 42 after 9 games). If he keeps up his pace, he will finish his career with the worst free throw shooting percentage for any player with 200 or more attempts. That’s a dubious way to get into the SU record books!

Roberts already has the distinction for the worst free throw shooting percentage in a season with 100+ attempts, which he set last year in his junior campaign. He shot a blistering 56 of 133, for 42.1% accuracy, breaking the season mark previously held by the legendary Stephen Thompson (83-167, 49.7% in 1988-89).

And whose career mark is Roberts challenging (using the 200 attempt standard)? That too would be Mr. Thompson’s, who clearly was the most prolific bad free throw shooter the Orangemen ever had, making 328 of 622 career attempts for a 52.7% accuracy.

Roberts will probably end up with around 160 or so attempts again this season (he’s averaging 4.7 per game), so he has about 120 attempts left. So in order to get his career mark above Thompson’s, Roberts will need to do shoot something like 57 of 78 (73%) down the stretch; not bad for an average player but Herculean by Robert’s standards. I think Roberts may have this one in the bank. Except, there is a challenger out there... more later.

Who are the worst free throw shooters in Syracuse history? There are several candidates.

Roberts would statistically be the worst. There are other candidates.

Stevie Thompson, as mentioned, was not only very bad, but also very prolific. Coach Jim Boeheim used to comment on how much Thompson practiced every day at free throw shooting, and he often was very accurate in practice, but just could not translate it into the game. Thompson as a junior, shot 49.7% from the free throw line, and an amazing 64% from the floor. He was virtually defensively unstoppable when he got the ball near the hoop, which is why he was fouled so often.

Rony Seikaly was another prolific horrible free throw shooter. He hit at 57.6%, which by the standards of many players I’ll comment on here, is actually nosebleed territory. Unfortunately he did it on 412 of 715 free throw attempts. That’s a lot of misses (nine more the Thompson!), for a school career record.

Herman ‘The Helicopter’ Harried would be the worst ever if we lowered the standard to 100 attempts. He shot 45 of 119 for this career, at a 37.8% clip. Harried had no form at all, and just clanged the ball off the hoops.

Other horrible free throw shooters in Syracuse history included Louie McCroskey (51 of 108, 47.2%), Jeremy McNeil (57 for 116, 49.1%), and Josh Pace (88 for 174, 50.6%).

Robert’s teammate Darryl Watkins is also on this list, and he's the contender mentioned earlier. Entering this season Watkins was 66 of 137 for his career, a 48.2% average. He would have been on pace to break Thompson’s record if not for Roberts. Watkins still has a shot at it; he’s 7 of 14 so far this season (50%), raising his career average to 48.3%. A hot streak by Roberts or a cold streak by Watkins could give him the edge (if you want to call it that).

However, numbers don’t always tell the whole story. While it’s true that statistically Roberts, Watkins, and Thompson are the worst ever seen on the Hill, another man truly set the standard: Derek Brower. Brower made 42.1% of his free throws in his career, on 67 of 159. Most players improve over the course of their career through a combination of practice and more playing time. Not Brower. He shot 61% his freshman year, entered his senior season with a career average of 43.9%, and proceeded to shoot 20 of 52 (38.5%) to lower it. Brower frequently shot air balls to the dismay of Syracuse fans; there were times the fans cheered when he merely hit the rim. Brower was a large hustling player whose job on the court was to play defense and rebound; shooting was not his forte.

But the reason that Brower makes the top of this list (or should I say bottom?) is the impact his free throw shooting had on the college basketball game. In the 1987 2nd round NCAA tournament game against Western Kentucky, Syracuse had a lead in the second half. The Hilltoppers decided their best effort to get back in the game was to deliberately foul Brower (when he did not have the ball) and make him shoot free throws. This led to the comical effect of Brower running around the court (without the ball) trying to avoid being fouled by the chasing Western Kentucky players. The strategy was effective as Brower would go 0-6 from the free throw line, though not enough as Syracuse still won by a large margin. However, the following summer, the NCAA would change its rules stating that if a player was deliberately fouled by the other team, he would get two free throws and his team would get the ball back afterwards.
So Derek, a tip of the hat to you.

Monday, December 04, 2006

One Fan's Enjoyment of Non-Conference Play

So, as part of the annual rites of the passage of autumn, the bashing of the Syracuse non-conference schedule has occurred by the national media. Most of those comments are knee jerk reactions by analysts who have far too many teams to follow and too little time to really know the nuances of what each team is actually doing.

And there are elements of hypocrisy in it. Most big schools have the same form of non-conference games.

UConn won’t play a single road game prior to their Big East kick off on 12/30 versus West Virginia. That’s 11 home games, none away from home.

UCLA, current #1 team in the country, has twelve games prior to the start of the Pac-10. 9 are at home; 3 are away from home at the Maui Classic. Course, those are neutral games, not road games.

North Carolina will have fourteen non-conference games; two on the road, with a trip to Tennessee and a trip to Saint Louis.

And then there is Duke, the program beloved by so many announcers. These announcers would never criticize Duke. That’s not the Blue Devils problem, and I don’t begrudge Duke for it. It is a class program. However, let’s be fair. Duke has played 8 games so far this season, all at home. Three more home games until they play Gonzaga on 12/21. Then two more home games before the ACC schedule starts.

And it’s not just this season. In 2005-06, Duke went out on a limb and played three road games in their first thirteen out-of-conference schedule, against Indiana, Texas, and UNC-Greensboro.

In 2004-05, Duke played 11 non-conference games to start the season, all at home except for road game to Valparaiso.

Again, I’m not knocking Duke on this. They’re just doing what everyone else does. But its times for the national announcers to stop singling out Syracuse for its schedule. They are one of many.

I think that the big schools should play the smaller schools in their area every season. These games are extremely important to the small schools, and help the big schools in the process.

The college basketball analysts scream about teams not playing enough big games; but that’s entirely self serving. They want more big games to cover. They’re more fun, and frankly require less homework. How tough is it for Dick Vitale to prepare for a Duke / Georgetown pre-season game? The average fan knows quite a few players on both teams. Preparing for a Duke / Sacred Heart game, however, is much tougher. And of course, announcing a close game is easy… the action speaks for itself. A lopsided game requires the announcer to actually bring something to the table, and stay interested into the game.

There is hypocrisy in who you play. If you schedule a mid-major team (a Bucknell or a Butler), you risk a lot with little in return. When you win the game, announcers will say it was just another win against a creampuff non-conference team. But… you have a chance of losing to those mid-major schools, because as we are now all aware, they are dangerous to play. And losing to those schools will hurt you (any loss should hurt).

I think the big schools not only should play the small local schools, but have an obligation to do so.

By local, I don’t mean just those in your city. But play those small Division I schools in your state. In Syracuse’s case that includes schools such as Colgate, Cornell, Niagara, St.Bonaventure, Canisius, and Siena, among others. It’s a win/win in these games. Usually it’s an easier game for Syracuse, a chance to prep the team and get some revenue for another home town game. The small schools win because they get an opportunity to play a big time school (good for fans and recruiting), and they get a big boost in revenue with their piece of the revenue. And it helps build tradition; and I think tradition is greatly under appreciated by many in college athletics today.

Syracuse has played Colgate 159 times, and the Orangemen lead the series 114-45. They’ve played the Red Raiders more than any other team, and they should keep that going. Canisius 67 times, Cornell 114 times, Niagara 81 times. Surprisingly, they’ve played St. Bonaventure only 24 times prior to this year. Siena only 6 times.

I think it might be nice to see SU play LeMoyne regularly. Amazingly, they’ve only faced 5 times. It would be lopsided, but I think its good sportsmanship to have them play. Where I now live, Pitt plays Division III Carnegie Mellon. It’s a slaughter (though CMU put a scare into Pitt a couple years back with a close halftime score), but it’s a shame if they did not play. The two schools' campuses touch each other, and isn’t a part of collegiate sports the intercollegiate camaraderie? While its mostly about money, its should not be ALL about money.

I do find it offensive when teams scour the nation looking for a creampuff. North Carolina played Sacred Heart (CT) this year. Why? In the past Syracuse has had Coppin State or Bethune-Cookman come up. Again, why? Those games I would agree should not be scheduled. The obligation is only regional.

But I also find it offensive to reward a team for just scheduling tough games. It’s always been my position, you’ve got to prove yourself on the court (or on the field, depending on the sport). Go ahead and schedule the tough games. But you’ve got to win them for it to matter; scheduling them and then going out and losing does not show anything.

Michigan State, in 2003-2004 played a brutal non-conference schedule to start the season with road games at #14 Kansas, UCLA, and #24 Syracuse, and home games against #6 Duke, # 4 Kentucky, and Oklahoma among the eleven first games. They started the season 5-6, ended up 18-12. The NCAA rewarded the Spartans for playing the tough non-conference schedule. Reward teams that play a tough schedule and win the games. It’s a great tie breaker when you are evaluating two close teams. But, in my book, you’ve got to win the games; just scheduling them shouldn’t be enough.

Hey, I enjoy the November and December games. Maybe in part, because when I was growing up those were the games that we could get easily get tickets to. They weren’t in high demand, and crowds weren’t huge. But they were enjoyable. And occasionally you got to see a 40 point effort from Gene Waldron, or 31 points from Howard Triche, or rare collegiate triple double by Derrick Coleman.

But to me, its all part of the college game. The national media is just blind to it.