Syracuse Basketball: Behind the Numbers


After ten games, what do we know about the Syracuse Orange basketball team? What does the data say about this team?

Like our Behind the Numbers article about the Syracuse Orange football team a couple of days ago, I am going to take a look at the basketball team’s statistics to try to find a way to predict what the team will do the rest of the year. This is the first weekly look into, so remember that only a limited amount of data has been fished through. Basketball has a ridiculous number of percentage statistics to wade through and it may take a few weeks to pinpoint the important numbers.

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With that said, those of you who have been watching this team have probably noticed more 3-point shots than in previous years. This team does not seem to rely very much on its big men. Gone are the days of Derrick Coleman, Etan Thomas, Hakim Warrick, Otis Hill, Rakeem Christmas, Donte Green, Craig Forth, and Darryl Watkins hanging out in the paint, taking up space on both sides of the court, and just being a nuisance to other teams.

Without that strong middle presence, it is difficult for the Orange to create the space around 18 feet that they need for their wing shooters. The Syracuse offense has needed that to be successful, at least from a schematic standpoint for the entirety of Jim Boeheim’s career. That makes sense since size is the most coveted commodity in college basketball.

How does this season’s focus on the 3-pointer stack up to previous seasons? Does Syracuse suffer in other areas it has needed to succeed in previous seasons? Has there been precedent for this in recent seasons? Without any more ado, here is some data (all data taken since the 2000-2001 season):

  1. Syracuse is attempting 25 3-pointers per game this season.
  2. That is 3 more than any season since 2000.
  3. Syracuse has only shot more than 20 from 3-point range per game two other times since 2000 (2005/06 and 2006/07).
  4. Syracuse shot 15 three’s per game when they won the 2002/2003 NCAA championship.
  5. This season, Syracuse is shooting 36.8% from 3-point range.
  6. That is the second highest mark since 2000 (39.1%  in 2009/10).
  7. They took 17.8 shots from 3-point range that season.
  8. Syracuse went 30-5 that same season and tied for the conference championship.
  9. In the 2002/03 NCAA championship season, Syracuse shot 34.4% from 3-point range.
  10. Syracuse has an offensive rebound percentage of 29% this season.
  11. It is the first time Syracuse has had an offensive rebound percentage below 30% since the turn of the century.
  12. Before this season, their lowest was 32.5% last season.
  13. Before that, it was 34.3% in 2008/09.
  14. Syracuse played 40 games in the 2012/13 season.
  15. It was the only time they played more than 38 games in any season, ever.
  16. That season, Syracuse won 30 games.
  17. They also lost 10 games.
  18. That one season messes up all of my trending data for double-digit loss seasons and 30-win seasons.
  19. In each of the four seasons Syracuse has won 30 or more games, they had an offensive rebound percentage higher than 35%.
  20. There is no statistical correlation between how low their offensive rebound percentage was and how many losses they had in any season since 2000.
  21. There is no statistical correlation between how many 3-pointers they took and how many wins or losses they had in any season since 2000.
  22. Syracuse had their best winning percentage since 2000 during the 2011/12 season (34-3, .919).
  23. They had a 15.4% turnover per possession rate that season.
  24. The only other time they had a turnover per possession rate lower than 17.5 was in 2013/14 (14.5%).
  25. Syracuse currently has a turnover per possession rate of 17.8%.
  26. Except for the 2011/12 season, when Syracuse attempts more than 17 3-pointers a game, they have a turnover per possession rate higher than 18%.
  27. Syracuse has attempted more than 18 3-pointers, had a turnover per possession rate lower than 18%, and shot better than 34% from three only once since 2000.
  28. That happened during the 34-3 2011/12 season.
  29. Syracuse shoots more than 18 3-pointers, has turnover per possession rate below 18%, and is shooting better than 34% from three this season.

What do all of these numbers tell us? First, When it comes to turning the ball over and shooting the 3-pointer, Syracuse is matching their best winning percentage since the turn of the century. Second, Syracuse is doing an abysmal job rebounding those missed 3-pointers, at the worst rate this century. Third, college basketball has too many games now; no team should ever play 40 games in a season.

This data set doesn’t give us enough data to soundly predict wins and losses this season. What it does, however, is highlight how difficult it is for Syracuse to protect the ball and rebound its missed shots while simultaneously shooting and making a lot of threes.

If Syracuse intends to live and die by the 3-point shot this season, it will need to improve its offensive rebounding. To put this in perspective, Syracuse is hitting 36.8% of its threes. St. Mary’s is leading the nation at 50.3%. No team has hit more than 50% on a season since 2000. St. Mary’s is taking 22 threes a game. The most per game is The Citadel who attempt 38 per game and hit 12 (32.3%). St. Mary’s hits 11 a game, Syracuse only 9.

Syracuse may be heaving more per game than they are used to, but it’s not as many as the teams that truly live and die by the three. This may sound very anti-Syracuse, but maybe they should consider speeding it up and taking more of them. It couldn’t hurt at this point.