Syracuse Basketball: Is Boeheim Really the Difference?

Jan 18, 2016; Durham, NC, USA; Syracuse Orange head coach Jim Boeheim signals his players in their game against the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 18, 2016; Durham, NC, USA; Syracuse Orange head coach Jim Boeheim signals his players in their game against the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports /

Syracuse basketball is 9-2 with Coach Boeheim at the helm. They were 4-5 under Mike Hopkins. Is Boeheim really the difference, or is it something more?

Syracuse basketball has looked like a completely different team since Jim Boeheim has returned from his nine-game suspension. They’ve been more aggressive, have shown better flow on offense, been more solid defensively, and better on the glass. But is the difference solely having Boeheim behind the bench, or are there other factors at work here?

First, let’s take a look at some hard statistics. In Hopkins’ nine-game stretch, Syracuse was out-rebounded by nine boards, or basically one rebound per game. Since Boeheim has been back, they are +25 in four games, or 6.25 rebounds per game to the positive. Looking at those numbers alone is staggering, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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While Hopkins was coaching, one single game, the St. John’s debacle, accounted for a -18 rebounding margin. Take that game out of consideration, and Syracuse was an impressive +9.

If you add in the seven games Boeheim coached at the start of the season, Boeheim ends up with a +3 overall margin. So if you take things in perspective, Hopkins really wasn’t that much worse than Boeheim in terms of rebounding, and one or two games made a huge difference for both.

The team as a whole is not an outstanding rebounding unit because they lack size in the middle. Nothing that a coach can do can make up for a size disadvantage, and it’s certainly not fair to hold that against Hopkins. They rebounded very well in Hopkins’ three ACC games, a sign that they were improving as a unit under him, not just under Boeheim. Take out a few big games either way, and rebounding was a wash between the two.

Three-point shooting is another important area to look at. Under Hopkins, the team shot 73-236 from 3-point range, just 30.9%. That’s 8.1 made 3’s per game on 26.2 shots. It’s uncanny the number of open, uncontested 3-point shots that were missed in those nine games.

In contrast, in Boeheim’s 11 games, the team has made 101-266 3-pointers for a 37.9% clip. They’ve made 9.2 per contest on 24.2 shot attempts.

So basically, they’ve shot two 3’s less per game, and made more than one extra with Boeheim. That is a huge diference. One more made 3 beats Clemson. One made 3 and two less misses could have been the difference in games against Georgetown, Miami, and Pittsburgh.

Syracuse Basketball Mike Hopkins
Jan 5, 2016; Syracuse, NY, USA; Syracuse Orange associate head coach Mike Hopkins reacts to a call against the Clemson Tigers during the first half at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports /

Basically what I’m trying to say is, you can’t blame Hopkins for a poor shooting stretch by Syracuse. They missed the same open looks they’ve been making under Boeheim, and that’s not a coaches fault.

Where Boeheim has improved the team over Hopkins is on their offensive sets and defensive activity levels. During the nine-game hiatus, the offense was incredibly stagnant. Literally the only play we ran was the high screen, and then players just stood around watching.

Since Boeheim has returned, he’s increased the off the ball movement. He’s attempted to utilize the post more (three straight dump downs to Coleman on the interior against Duke opened the floor a bit). He’s encouraged Gbinije and Richardson to drive to the hoop more. While still running the high screen on offense, he has utilized the pick and roll play between Roberson and Gbinije to perfection, which was deadly against Duke all night.

He’s also encouraged Roberson, Lydon, and Coleman to crash the offensive boards as much as possible to get second chances for our offense on missed shots.

Defensively, he’s massively improved the interior defense by simply focusing on getting players in better position. He’s had the wings collapse down to cut off the back door passes, has increased the rotation and recovery speed of the entire unit, and has focused heavily on positioning for the bottom of the zone to be better on the defensive glass.

Next: How Did Syracuse Beat Duke?

These changes are what you’d expect out of a 40-year head coach who had nine games to sit and watch what the team was doing wrong. It’s harder when you are in the thick of things to see these trends, so I think it’s understandable why Hopkins struggled to adjust.

Let’s also not forget that Hopkins knew Boeheim was coming back and didn’t want to make any changes the coach might not like. He went “by the book”, something I don’t expect he’ll do once he’s the head coach. I think he needs the time on his own, without the weight of coaching someone else’s team, before we make any kind of conclusion of what kind of coach Hopkins will be.

To sum up, yes Boeheim has made some changes that have worked very well. However, you can’t fault Hopkins for the team’s struggles, and I don’t think it’s fair to give him too much criticism before he gets his own chance to do things his way. I for one am still very much looking forward to the kind of coach he will be.

Here’s to the future of Syracuse basketball!