Losing faceoffs makes things difficult, but it isn’t an automatic laser cannon to the face. The 2013 iteration of the Syracuse Orange have been a model of why the first instance of possession generation (play at the faceoff dot) isn’t the lone pivot point for success or failure: Winning faceoffs matter, but it’s more important to be the team that creates the faceoff posture via a score. Bryant’s trip to the Carrier Dome on Sunday night was a great example of that fact: Despite winning 22 of 23 draws on the carpet, the Bulldogs only scored on four of the immediately ensuing possessions (two were attributable to Bryant's first two draws of the game) – Syracuse had 16 stops off of the Bulldogs’ faceoff possessions (two faceoff wins for the Bulldogs were end-of-period type of wins that went nowhere and didn't generate an ensuing goal or Syracuse possession) – and Bryant only created a faceoff scenario (its primary possession generating opportunity) in eight instances. The Orange were able to put together defensive stops that led to clears, neutralizing the Bulldogs’ faceoff dominance and closing the possession gap that Kevin Massa was creating on the whistle (Bryant was plus-21 in faceoffs but Syracuse’s ultimate possession deficit was minus-10 thanks to the team’s 26 clearing opportunities (the Bulldogs had only 15)).
That’s the story of Bryant-Syracuse: Bryant dominating every draw but Syracuse killing defensive opportunity after defensive opportunity, leading to offensive possessions for the Orange that the Bulldogs had no answer for. Bryant’s offensive opportunities – efforts that saw the Bulldogs score on only about 18 percent of their chances – were a mix of unforced turnovers, caused giveaways from an active Syracuse defense, a clinic from Syracuse on corralling loose balls in the run of play (attributable to the high volume of turnovers from the Bulldogs), and unproductive shooting that only mildly tested Dominic Lamolinara’s ability to turn away shots. While Bryant had the possession advantage in its favor, its trips to the offensive end yielded all kinds of dead results; the inefficiency of the Bulldogs’ offense against an Orange defense that had its head screwed on straight rendered Bryant’s possession margin relatively ineffective. It was this twofold effect of Syracuse’s defensive effort – killing the Bulldogs’ offensive opportunities and creating offensive opportunities for the Orange’s offense – that focused the volition of the game: Syracuse wasn’t going to get a lot of possessions on the offensive end, but when they got them (almost 90 percent came on clearing opportunities), the Orange weren’t going to waste them.
Scoring on almost 41 percent of its offensive opportunities (that’s an incredibly high rate; only a few teams approach that mark (and they usually occur in games featuring a total lack of defense on both ends of the field)), Syracuse’s offense was a sledgehammer against an overmatched Bulldogs defense: The Orange – as is their style – rarely turned it over, shot with stinging accuracy, created a multi-faceted approach in the attack box, and pressured Gunnar Waldt to make stops while picking their spots to put attempts on the cage. It wasn’t a volumized offensive performance from the Orange that made the scoreboard blink incessantly, but it was indicia of what Syracuse has been on the offensive end all season: Down 4-0 to start the game (a surprising hole that the Orange needed to deal with), Syracuse climbed back into it in the first half (the teams went into intermission tied) and blew the game open in the final 30 minutes; the strength of the Orange’s offense (combined with the opportunities that the defense was giving it) needing only time and room to create the desired effect.
Knuckleheads that threaten you with “knuckle sandwiches” may look at the final score – a 12-7 victory for Syracuse – and chastise the Orange for not playing to its potential against the Northeast Conference’s representative. That is, of course, knucklehead theory at its finest and a simple hypothetical proves it: If Syracuse had played at a one to two opportunity deficit against the Bulldogs (Syracuse has actually played with a one possession advantage in its favor on a 60-minute basis over the course of the season), the Orange – based on each team’s generated efficiencies – would have been about eight goals stronger than Bryant, right in the sweet spot of where you’d expect Syracuse to be relative to Rhode Island’s only NCAA Tournament participant. The Orange played well in difficult circumstances; the final scoring margin masks that fact a little bit.
Here's a truncated tempo-free box score:
|Offensive Efficiency (per 100 Offensive Opportunities)||17.95||41.38|
|Shots per Offensive Opportunity||0.72||1.03|
|Offensive Shooting Percentage||25.00%||40.00%|
|Turnovers (per 100 Offensive Opportunities)||46.15||24.14|
|Caused Turnovers (per 100 Defensive Opportunities)||10.34||28.21|
|Unforced Turnovers (per 100 Offensive Opportunities)||17.95||13.79|
|Team Save Percentage||45.45%||53.33%|
|Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities||34.48||20.51|