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Big City Classic Profile: Syracuse

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This could be a really easy profile to write.  In fact, I could actually write this profile with just 11 words: "Syracuse has John Lade and John Galloway; other teams don't.  Undefeated."

Done.  That, however, would be cheating and cheaters never win (except for the tax variety).

So, I'm going to write something further about the Orange, but it isn't going to look like the other profiles.  Rather, I want to examine the following question: If Syracuse says that they want to play fast, and if people believe that they play faster than most schools in the country, is pace somehow contributing to the Orange's efficiency?

The reason I'm posing this question is fairly straightforward: There's a feeling that the Syracuse-Duke game on Sunday is going to be a bit of a track meet.  The potential for it is there -- Syracuse's pace on the season is around 71.5 possessions (13th nationally); Duke's is around 69.5 (20th nationally) -- but I'm not positive that a quicker game means that Syracuse is going to flourish offensively and defensively. 

To be clear: I don't think that the pace of the game will matter at all.


As background, here's Syracuse's cumulative values associated with the metrics subject to examination:

Pace 71.41 13 66.92
Offensive Possessions Per Game 37.61 11 33.43
Defensive Possessions Per Game 33.80 32 33.49
Possessions Per Game Margin 3.80 12 -0.07
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 28.99 26 27.99
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 19.52 2 27.03
Adjusted Efficiency Margin 9.48 7 0.96

What I'm looking for is:

  • When Syracuse plays a game above it's pace (71.41 total possessions per 60 minutes), are Syracuse's efficiency values (offensive, defensive, and margin) above or below the Orange's cumulative rate?
  • When Syracuse plays a game above the national pace average (66.92 total possessions per 60 minutes), are Syracuse's efficiency values (offensive, defensive, and margin) above or below the Orange's cumulative rate?
  • When Syracuse plays a game below the national pace average (66.92 total possessions per 60 minutes), are Syracuse's efficiency values (offensive, defensive, and margin) above or below the Orange's cumulative rate?

From this we should be able to see whether the tempo of the game is truly impacting Syracuse's performance.

Tempo Above Cumulative Syracuse Pace

The Orange have played three games this season above their usual pace: Albany, Virginia, and Army (all Carrier Dome affairs, interestingly).  Here's the breakdown:

Albany 90.00 36.73 31.71 5.03
Virginia 80.00 29.27 25.64 3.63
Army 72.00 27.50 28.13 -0.625

In all but the Albany game, Syracuse played right around it's cumulative offensive efficieny effort.  There's a drastic difference in the Albany game, but the Danes are one of the worst defensive teams in the country (plus, Albany was really banged up when they visited the Dome).  With respect to defensive efficiency, Syracuse maintained drastically higher values.  Now, if I adjust these numbers for the strength of an opponent's offense they do come back a bit, but not enough to say that the Orange defense was as kill-worthy as it generally is.

The efficiency margin is self-explanatory and it's due to the inflated defensive efficiency values when the pace is increased.  This shouldn't be surprising.  The inflation is attributable to sloppiness in play and an increase in goals scored.  Without getting into the first part of that statement (it exists and is centered around caused turnovers and giveaways), the foundation of Syracuse's defensive efficiency increase in quicker games is due to the fact that they yielded more goals in those contests.

So, let's tentatively state that a quicker game has little impact on the Syracuse offense, but has a more detrimental impact to the Syracuse defense.  As a result, the Orange isn't as efficient in the overall.

Tempo Above National Average

In addition to the three games above, Syracuse has played an additional two opponents at a pace greater than the national average (66.92): Georgetown (neutral site) and Denver (season-opener in the Dome).  Chart!

Georgetown 67.04 26.47 22.86 3.61
Denver 68.00 34.21 23.33 10.88

It's pretty clear, right?  As tempo decreases, we're starting to see Syracuse's defensive efficiency stiffen up.  I don't think that this is a coincidence.  With the exception of the Denver game (that was a bad, bad day for the Pioneers, especially as we're now seeing that they're rolling with a pretty average defensive unit), the Orange just about did what they do on offense.

Again, I think we're seeing a trend: Syracuse's offense does what it does regardless of pace; the strength of the Syracuse defense is better in slower rather than quicker games.

Tempo Below National Average

Syracuse has played two games below the national possession rate: Villanova (away) and Johns Hopkins (home).  The Orange played a pretty miserable game against the Wildcats and Dave Pietramala bastardized the game in the latter contest.  The numbers aren't pretty:

Villanova 62 15.63 13.33 2.29
Johns Hopkins 61.63 15.15 12.12 3.03

These games were knife fights, so I'm not shocked that the Syracuse offense was in the tank.  If you argue that a game around 60 possessions is detrimental to the Syracuse offense, I won't laugh you out of the room.  It is important to note, however, that there is a smaller gap between these super-slow possession games to the national average than between Syracuse's super-quick games and the national average.  In the latter cohort, there wasn't a significant deviation in terms of offensive efficiency, although there was a deviation.  In the first set, there might be.  I'd be careful with this correlation; it's there, but I'm not positive that it's wildly important.

Defensively, this is all DERP!: The Orange got it straight done. The trend continues: As the game slows down, the Orange's defensive efficiency skyrockets (or plummets, as it were).  This is a signficant correlation.

Final Point

I haven't really mentioned Syracuse's efficiency margin in all three scenarios. As you can see, it pretty much hangs around three or four the entire time (the Denver game excluded).  This is why I'm not sure there's a huge correlation between pace and Syracuse's success: Syracuse is going to do what it needs to do to win.  In other words, it doesn't matter that the defensive or offensive efficiency increases or decreases as the pace of play changes; the Orange's overall offensive and defensive efforts will always be (or at least have been) better than their opposition's efforts.

That's the big takeaway, I think. Syracuse may want to play fast, but it doesn't have to.  On each side of the coin there are trends, but overall, Syracuse is what it is: Undefeated and about three to four goals per 100 possessions better than every team it has played.