Saturday, February 26, 2011

Orange Beat Hoyas

Syracuse had an impressive 58-51 win at Georgetown on Sunday, putting them at 24-6 on the season, and 11-6 with one game to play. The win was impressive because they kept the game at their pace for most of the 40 minutes of play, and Jim Boeheim rotated a healthy mix of players into the game during meaningful playing time.

Syracuse did not shoot particularly well, but shot well enough. They were out rebounded for the game 35-27. But they did everything they needed to do to win the game. They played very active in the zone forcing the Hoyas into 16 turnovers and gave them few good looks at the basket. They protected the ball well on offense with only 9 turnovers (and only one ‘Scoop what the heck are you thinking’ moment). They had five blocked shots, though it seemed far more like 15. Hands up everywhere, no where for the Hoyas to shoot near the basket. And great transition into the fastbreak from the defense.

Raise your hand if you thought that James Southerland and Fab Melo would be on the court with less than 3 minutes to go, the team clinging to a three point lead, and there were no foul problems or injuries on the team?

Jim Boeheim had told Mike Waters the other day that he hoped to get a lot extra practice time for the freshmen during the abundance of free time the team had the next two weeks.

I was surprised that he decided he would use this game to do it. And it paid off. Southerland was the offensive spark in the first half, finishing the game with 9 points. And he displayed some hustle on his defense with a couple of steals, a block and three rebounds. That’s the way to earn some additional playing time. He ended up playing 21 minutes in this game.

Melo did not see much playing time in the first half but, ended up playing seven minutes, some of it during crunch time. He made some mistakes, but perhaps for the first time this year, he looked like a player who had some idea of what he should be doing on the court.

This may come in handy during the Big East tournament when the team can use the extra depth. C.J. Fair, Kris Joseph and Dion Waiters lost some playing time as a result, but we all know what they can do.

The Orange are now 7-4 against AP Top 25 teams this season. That’s the most wins by any NCAA team this season against the Top 25. The school record is 8 wins, accomplished three times, and last done just last year. The Orange will definitely get a shot at win number eight with their match up in the Big East almost certainly to be a top 25 team.

The Orange are an impressive 6-3 on the road. They are 3-0 in neutral sites, making them 9-3 in games away from home, and 4-2 against ranked teams away from home.

After 30 games, I still do not have this team entirely figured out. I’m guessing most the opposition does not either, which is to Syracuse’s advantage. I do know they know how to win.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Another 20 Win Season!

Congratulations to Jim Boeheim for this 33rd 20+ win season, an NCAA record for a coach. Boeheim has now won 20+ wins for 14 straight seasons; that would in itself be an impressive career for most coaches.

Let me dispel some myths about Boeheim’s ability to consistently win 20+ wins.

#1: He wins all his games against cupcakes and then goes .500 in the Big East to get to 20 wins. Wrong. In 32 years of Big East basketball, Boeheim’s teams have finished below .500 only twice: the 1980-1981 squad went 6-8, and the 2005-2006 team went 7-9. Only three other teams went .500: 1981-1982 (7-7), 1996-1997 (9-9), and 2007-2008 (9-9). That means in Big East play, Syracuse has been better than a .500 team 27 out of 32 times, or 84% of the time.

Let’s even give the Boeheim-hater the margin of 1 game over .500. That’s 5 more teams (two teams at 9-7 and three at 10-8). That still means he has had 22 teams in 32 years BETTER than that.

By no stretch is Jim Boeheim just a .500 coach in the Big East. And even if he were, the Big East historically has been a very tough conference. .500 in such a conference would be a nice accomplishment. The worst team in Boeheim history went 6-8 in the Big East. Oh yeah, that worst Boeheim team… won the Big East tournament, and lacking an automatic bid to the NCAA, went to the NIT, and eventually lost in the NIT finals. Pretty impressive, for his worst team.

#2: He wins all his games against cupcakes in out of conference games. Syracuse has played 46 top 25 non-conference regular season games over the past 32 years (I’m not counting Boeheim’s first three seasons when there was no Big East conference and thus no non-conference games). Syracuse is 29-17 in those games, winning 63% of those games. He obviously does better against the non-top 25 teams, but to suggest he wins beats only the unranked teams is a fallacy.

If we take his 63% winning percentage against non-conference Top 25 teams, and multiplied that by 35, the average number of non NCAA tournament games a year, he would still win an average of 22 games a year. That’s assuming that he played only top 25 games for every game of the season, which would be absurd.

#3: He reaches the 20 game level to look impressive. Boeheim’s teams have reached 20+ wins 33 of his 35 seasons. They have won 22+ games in 27 of his 35 seasons (and will make it 28 this year). 18 times his teams have won 24+ games, and this season should make it 19. So not only does he win 20 games routinely, he wins 22 and 23 games routinely.

Jim Boeheim has as 120-127 record in his career against top 25 teams (49% winning percentage). So you take the average Syracuse basketball team and you throw a random Top 25 basketball team against them, and they are even money to win the game.

He is 52-63 against top 10 teams for his career (45%). An average Jim Boeheim team has a 45% chance of beating a top 10 team. Outstanding in my opinion.

Boeheim is 17-53 against top 5 teams, or 24%. So throw any Jim Boeheim squad on a court against the top 5 teams in the country, and they will win 1 out of 4. I wouldn’t call that outstanding, but over a 35 year window, that’s a pretty good indication of how competitive his teams have been.

Syracuse is currently on a 7 game non-conference regular season winning streak against top 25 teams. The last time they lost to a top 25, non-Big East team, during the regular season was 12/5/2006 versus Oklahoma State.

Bottom line, Jim Boeheim wins 20+ games a year because he is an outstanding coach with a consistently strong program, and he knows how to win games.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Ending the Streak (Thankfully)

There are no ‘easy’ games in the Big East. A pretty common statement you hear in different media circles, and fairly accurate. Currently there are seven Big East teams ranked in the top 17 of the country. Syracuse had a four game losing streak, and I must admit I was getting quite uncomfortable as a fan, wondering if the Orange were falling apart. They were not playing like the same team they were up through early January.

They put me fears at ease with an excellent defensive effort at #6 UConn last night, winning 66-58. This is Syracuse’ first win at Connecticut in this millennium. A lousy offensive performance by the Orange, but a stellar defensive effort, fairly good ball control, and outstanding rebounding led the way.

Rick Jackson had another day at the office with his 15th double-double of the year. His pace has slowed down a little from December, but he’s going to be close to Derrick Coleman’s season rebounding record by the end of the year. Coleman had 422 rebounds, and Jackson is on pace for 403 (assuming 35 games).

Jackson would have had more rebounds last night but Baye Keita fouled that up for him. Keita had an outstanding night with 11 rebounds, 6 steals and 2 blocks. Those are clear signs of an active big man in the center of the defense. He did foul out of the game, but they are fouls of being overly aggressive, not overly passive, and that is more comfortable to live with.

I do not know what to make of the Syracuse team for the year. They are an outstanding defensive team (most the time), and when they are playing the defense well, they get a lot of transition points. The Orange run an outstanding transition game, which is good because the rest of their offense is just plain awful. They have moments where they look good, but they just never seem to find an offensive rhythm.

The three point shooting is just mediocre at best, though Brandon Triche can get hot. It’s not like they have difficult looks at the basket; Syracuse must have a couple of air balls each game from three point range (or so it seems). Jim Boeheim should outlaw any attempts at the alley-oop pass, as it seems to fail with these guys more often than succeed.

Fortunately Jackson is hustling every game and getting extra shots for the Orange when they miss the hoop.

The naysayers and the Boeheim haters are of course coming out of the woodwork saying the he once again inflated his won/loss record with an easy preconference schedule, and now that the Orange are facing real competition, they are losing. Of course, this isn’t true this year, nor is it true most years.

Syracuse was ranked #1 in the RPI on January 15th, when they were 18-0 going into the Pitt game. They are 4-2 this season against top 25 teams, and 2-2 versus teams ranked #7 or higher. They have 11 “quality wins” on the season (Northern Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina State, Michigan State, Drexel, Providence, Notre Dame, Seton Hall, St. John’s, Cincinnati, and UConn). And they have no “bad” losses.
They lost four games in a row, and two of those were against very good teams. It was an awful stretch of basketball the past three games. The Orange are going to lose again down the stretch. They are not good enough offensively to win every game every night, and I think after 23 games, we can recognize the hand that Syracuse was dealt. Offensively, they are not going to improve much more this year.

Defensively they can give any team in the country fits, and that will keep them in any game they play. In the NCAA tournament it will give them an advantage against those teams less familiar with the zone that the Big East competition. Running six straight in the NCAA would be tough for a team without a real offense. But they can definitely do some damage in the tournament, and you just need to win one game at a time.

You never know.