Sunday, December 5, 2010

Side by Side -- Seton Hall versus Syracuse (via Cornell)

Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon...D1 Style
I think it was Ken Pomeroy who, by comparing selective game scores, was able to "comparatively reason" The Citadel to a National Championship several years ago. And that is the flaw in looking to game scores between teams A & B and teams B & C to determine if Team A is better than Team C. Oddly though, most comparative systems do variations on that same process (more sophisticated to be sure) in order to develop ranking systems. Can comparing the statistics of the Seton Hall-Cornell game and the Syracuse-Cornell tell us anything about Seton Hall and Syracuse (other than they both beat Cornell by double digits)? What if we controlled for possessions and looked at Oliver's Four Factors?

Seton HallSyracuse
Offense Defense
Seton HallSyracuseSeton HallSyracuse

Both Big East teams hosted the Big Red just over two weeks apart. Cornell's off guard, junior Chris Wroblewski, was DNP for the Pirate game, having sprained his ankle in an exhibition game in early November. Wroblewski did return in Cornell's next games (11/17, vs. Delaware) where the squad's projected high-scorer managed a (co)team-high 13 points versus the Blue Hens. Wroblewski, despite not playing in Cornell's first two game, leads the Big Red for points scored and average points per game. One minor surprise was the pace of the Hall game. 78-79 possessions is more an exhibition-level pace than one would typically see in a (non VMI or North Carolina) game. The Orange's pace was a bit high for Coach Boeheim teams, but not by much.

Offense vs. Offense
If SHU's offense appears more effective against this opponent, consider the Pirate squad has a season of team play under it's belt going into the Cornell game, and two of common practices (Keon Lawrence, Jeff Robinson and Herb Pope are transfers who sat in 2008-09), even if the coach, Kevin Willard, is new. Syracuse is attempting to forge a unit with a new point guard, Dion Waiters splitting time with returning players Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine, while the Orange also have to work wing/forward C.J. Fair and freshman Fab Melo (who had a very good game) into a front court rotation that includes returners Rick Jackson, Kris Joseph and Baye Keita. I suspect the Syracuse offense, once the freshman are aclimated to D1 play, can register efficiencies higher than 107, and closer to SHU's 117. How much more "growth" can the Hall expect to do with the current roster?

Defense vs. Defense
Pomeroy calculates an adjusted offensive efficiency of 97.6 (0.98 points per possession) for Cornell, suggesting that both the Hall (0.87) and Syracuse (0.79) kept Cornell well below their expected point yield per possession. Seton Hall showed a defense more stingy than the 2010 edition, reflection no doubt, of their new coach's priorities and approach to the game. Cornell's success depends significantly on their ability to convert threes, an offensive strategy that Syracuse's 2-3 zone is designed to counter, and in the Cornell game it did. The Big Red took 29 three point attempts, and converted at a disappointingly low 24.1% rate.

If the Hall and Cuse Played Today
The game would probably be played for an absurdly high 84 possessions (not going to happen, though both squads can run), and result in a very close decision that surprisingly enough would favor Seton Hall slightly. The actual outcome, given the projected margin of victory, could well hinge on where the game was played. My preview identified Seton Hall as a third quartile team and Syracuse as a second quartile team. But what do I know?

Other Considerations
1. The two are slated to play a mirror series this season, with the first game coming January 8 at the Rock (Pomeroy currently projects that as a one point win for Syracuse) with the return engagement January 25 at the Carrier Dome (which Pomeroy projects as a nine point win for the Cuse).
2. Jeremy Hazell, who scored 28 points in 28 minutes when the teams met on 11/14, broke his wrist (non shooting arm) and will most likely not be cleared to play until early January. Chances he will miss the first game are slim, but he will be rusty.

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