Villanova went into Saturday with a 1-5 record and I think a lot of people -- people wearing head bandages and speaking of inventing cell phones that double as toasters -- kind of assumed that Syracuse, which had been surging toward the top of the country given recent wins over St. John's and Johns Hopkins, would go into Villanova Stadium and steamroll the Wildcats. The fact of the matter is this: Records are only somewhat indicative of a team's overall strength; even though Villanova was merely 1-5, they had Lehigh, Drexel, and Princeton drowning in pools of sadness before the Wildcats spit the bit late and took painful losses. I'm not sure that it'd be fair to call Villanova "good" before their date with the Orange, but the Wildcats were certainly competitive, and that's all that's really necessary this year to pull off an upset.
It took four quarters of effort for Villanova to drop Syracuse -- the first time this season that the Wildcats have played a full 60 minutes and earned a victory against a quality opponent -- and the Wildcats accomplished the feat in the hardest way possible: By being decent but not fantastic.
Here's a sampling of an advanced box score from the game to help explain that last statement. Brief notes follow the table with thoughts about some stuff that impacted the outcome.
|VILLANOVA WILCATS||SYRACUSE ORANGE|
|Functional Offensive Opportunities||39.00||24.00|
|Functional Offensive Opportunities Ratio||90.70%||82.76%|
|Lost Functional Offensive Opportunities||18.00||12.00|
|Lost Functional Offensive Opportunities Ratio||46.15%||50.00%|
|Lost Functional Offensive Opportunities Margin||-6.00||+6.00|
|Offensive Efficiency: Functional Opportunities||28.21||41.67|
|Efficiency Margin: Functional Opportunities||-13.46||+13.46|
|Shots per Offensive Opportunity||1.02||0.72|
|Raw Shooting Rate||25.00%||47.62%|
|Offensive Assist Ratio||72.73%||60.00%|
|Offensive Assist Rate||18.60||20.69|
|Extra-Man Postures per 100 Offensive Opportunities||6.98||6.90|
|Extra-Man Posture Reliance||18.18%||10.00%|
|Extra-Man Posture Conversion Rate||66.67%||50.00%|
|Penalties per 100 Opportunities||4.17||4.17|
|Caused Turnovers per 100 Defensive Opportunities||31.03||23.26|
|Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities||51.16||58.62|
|Unforced Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities||27.91||27.59|
|"Run-of-Play Work Rate"||13.89||23.61|
|"Run-of-Play Work Rate" Margin||+14.93||-14.93|
|Saves per 100 Defensive Possessions||17.24||27.91|
|Team Save Percentage||33.33%||52.17%|
- Much has been made of the face-off advantage that Villanova had on the day, winning 22 of 24 draws. I think people are pointing at that stat and marking it as the silver bullet as to why the Wildcats beat the Orange. That sentiment -- that faceoff play was the reason that Villanova won -- ignores important consequences and performance points. The extra possessions that Thomas Croonquist earned from his play at the dot was a huge factor in the outcome of the game, but the context of those face-offs -- what they provided Villanova and what they denied Syracuse -- is ultimately the most important aspect to Croonquist's performance. First, Villanova wasn't all that efficient with the ball on Saturday, registering goals on only about 26 percent of their estimated offensive opportunities; with Croonquist providing possession after possession to the Wildcats, Villanova was able to volumize their offense, using extra opportunities to generate goals. Had the Wildcats been even more inefficient with the bean -- the team only shot 25 percent on the day and pissed away around 18 offensive opportunities that breached the attack box with a turnover -- the outcome of the game may have tilted in Syracuse's favor despite the heavy face-off advantage that Villanova had. A turnover here or a missed shot there do have important consequences, but the Wildcats were able to do just enough with their extra possessions to down the Orange. Second, the extra opportunities that Croonquist generated allowed Villanova to insulate a defense that Syracuse was doing a good job of attacking; the Orange generated goals on around 34 percent of their offensive opportunities which is a pretty decent rate. With a lack of defensive exposure due to the possession imbalance, the Wildcats were able to take some shots to the chest and still survive. So, in totem, Croonquist's work on the whistle was important and a factor in the game, but it's not simply the work at the dot that mattered -- it's what that work meant to both teams in terms of actual performance in play.
- Even if Syracuse got a few more possessions through an extra face-off win or two, it's not like the Orange were taking care of the pill. On the day Syracuse turned the ball over on almost 59 percent of their offensive opportunities, a rate significantly higher than their percentage on the season. (Right now, including the Villanova game, Syracuse commits only about 39 turnovers on a 100 possession basis. Only six teams are better than the Orange at maintaining possession.) With Syracuse being uncharacteristically careless with the bean, the Orange shot themselves directly in the foot -- partly due to a clearing effort that saw Syracuse complete only about 78 percent of their attempts to move the ball into the attack box, down from their 90 percent seasonal average -- and piss away opportunities all over the place. Just look at Syracuse's offensive efficiency when they'd actually advance the ball into the attack box: The team was seven goals more efficient (on a 100-possession basis) in the overall, around 13 goals better than Villanova on a 100-possession basis when looking at functional opportunities. Syracuse's inability to maximize functional opportunities by giving the ball away -- and, connectedly, the Wildcats' ability to pull the ball from the Orange's clutches -- was, arguably, the biggest factor in the game's outcome. You can only control what you can control, and limiting turnovers is something that any team can control in the overall. The Orange didn't do it and paid a steep price. (Losing 50 percent of the team's offensive opportunities via a turnover after actually matriculating the ball into the attack box didn't help Syracuse much either considering that only nine teams nationally have been better than the Orange at not losing the ball via turnover while in the attacking area.) That's the story of the day: Syracuse playing loose with the bean and Villanova taking it from the Orange.
- Villanova finally survived an uneven performance from between the pipes. Reed Carlson was far from a defensive force on the day and his save percentage and the volume of shots he was asked -- and actually -- stopped is nothing to write home about. (Note: Syracuse is ranked 10th in adjusted offensive efficiency, so it's not like Carlson was facing an impotent firing line.) Luckily, Villanova's field defense did a decent job killing the offensive opportunities that Syracuse had, creating a strong number of caused turnovers to somewhat insulate Carlson's exposure (the national average, on a 100 possession basis, is only around 22 caused turnovers). (Syracuse committing a relatively high rate of unforced turnovers also helped.) This remains a notable wart for Villanova to deal with, but the Wildcats survived despite Carlson's performance on Saturday.