Friday, January 7, 2011

Preview -- Syracuse at Seton Hall

Inconvenient Timing...
...but is there ever a good time for a visit from the Orange? First year coach Kevin Willard is about to find out why fans love the Big East (and the conference coaches hate it) -- there is never an off night. With players sidelined and those available still seeming to be on holiday, the Pirates nevertheless host the Syracuse Orange Saturday at the Rock. Syracuse is ranked #4 nationally, and puts a 15 game winning streak and a 2-0 Big East record on the line. Questions about who would step into the roles vacated by Wes Johnson, Andy Rautins and Arinze Onuaku have been pushed to the back burner (winning streaks have a habit of doing that) as the current roster has stepped up to mold their own style of play -- somewhere on the good side of the "me next" teams of 2006-2009 and the win-by-committee approach favored last season -- and risen to the top again early in conference play. If the Pirate faithful do not look back wistfully to the maelstrom of former Coach Bobby Gonzalez, it is only because those days especially the last ones, were excruciatingly painful. Give Coach Willard another few weeks and an injury or two more, and a few may well break out in a chorus of "Auld Lang Syne". Watching a new coach try to motivate an experienced (but set in their ways?) roster can be painful, and the Pirate Crew are feeling the pain right now.

CornellW (H)+24W (H)+20

Not much to compare via common opponents, but the Cornell result is interesting. The Hall came off a road loss to Temple and pummeled the Big Red. Both teams scored in the same neighborhood against the common opponent. Of course the Hall had a healthy Jeremy Hazell. The Oranges' best OOC win was a 14 point victory (72-58) over Michigan State (Big Ten, 9-4, RPI #35) in Madison Square Garden last month. Their best overall win to date was their last game is a 70-58 (+12) win over conference mate Notre Dame (13-2, 2-1, RPI #12). The Orange won the Legends Classic (covered by Rush the Court Live) over the Thanksgiving Weekend. The Pirates' best outing is their 64-55 win over conference mate South Florida (6-10, 0-3, RPI #102). Their loss to Arkansas in the Big East-SEC Challenge (SEC, 10-4, RPI #142) was painful.

Lineups, Rotations...
...Coach Willard uses an eight man rotation (if a nineth man checks in, it is Anali Okoloji, a 6-8 freshman front court project who shows a lot of enthusiasm), with junior point guard Jordan Theodore (6-0, 174 lbs), along with senior off guard Keon Lawrence (6-2, 177 lbs), freshman wing Fuquan Edwin (6-6, 205 lbs) at the #3, senior Jeff Robinson (6-6, 230 lbs) at the #4 and senior Herb Pope (6-8, 236 lbs) at the #5. Lawrence got the nod over senior transfer Jamel Jackson (6-3, 202 lbs) in the Pirates last outing (a 73-54 loss to Louisville), and it appears Coach Willard will try the senior guard again. Jackson will come off the bench, along with fifth year senior Eniel Polynice (6-5, 220 lbs), who decided to play his last season of D1 ball in South Orange. Patrik Auda (6-9, 225 lbs), a freshman Euro-style #4 will probably come off the bench early to spell Pope or lend more height to the front court.

Coach Jim Boeheim has not tinkered with his starting five, opening with 15 wins for the 3rd time in his 35 year tenure at Syracuse has made him a bit conservative perhaps? Sophomore Branden Triche (6-4, 205 lbs) will start at the point, with junior Scoop Jardine (6-2, 190 lbs) at the #2, junior Kris Joseph (6-7, 210 lbs) at the #3, senior Rick Jackson (6-9, 240 lbs) at the #4 and freshman Fab Melo (7-0, 244 lbs) at the #5. The first to sit will be Melo, and when he does (about five or so minutes into the first half), Coach Boeheim will call one of four numbers for his substition. Generally freshman Dion Waiters (6-4, 215 lbs) gets an early nod, with sophomore forward James Southerland (6-8, 210 lbs), freshman forward CJ Fair (6-8, 204 lbs) or (if Boeheim wants to maintain Melo's heighth along the back line) freshman center Baye Moussa Keita (6-10, 213 lbs) getting the nod. Though 15 games those five have drawn minutes (except Providence, where Fair was a DNP) even in the tight games. If the scoring margin goes beyond 20 or so, look for another four as many as four additional players to check in, led by sophomore forward Mookie Jones (6-8, 220 lbs) who has averaged double digit minutes in eight games this season.

By the Numbers, Offense & Defense...
...Syracuse tends to play for 67.9 possessions, just above the D1 average of 67.8 (adjusted according to Ken Pomeroy's Syracuse Team Page), while Seton Hall prefers to run -- 69.9 (see the Hall's page at Ken Pomeroy's site). Neither team should be uncomfortable with a higher possession rate, and though Pomeroy's 69 possession projection does not surprise, 70+ would not be shocking. A "Four Factors" comparison when Syracuse has the ball...

When Syracuse has the ball...
Orange O53.416.337.038.8
Pirate D44.421.130.333.3

The Orange have one of the elite offenses nationally, ranked #11, according to Ken Pomeroy's Scouting Report. Syracuse is strong shooting the ball (see their eFG%, ranked #45) and getting second chance opportunities, while they are just average (considering the size and athleticism of their front court, surprising) at getting to the line. Their true strength is turnovers -- they don't. The Hall's defense, while not "elite" is rated strongly (#43) by Pomeroy. Shooting and shot defense (the Hall is ranked #45 in shot defense) should be a strength-on-strength match-up for the two teams. If the Cuse can convert easily, the Hall may have trouble keeping up, and if the Pirates can shut down Orange scoring, look for fewer transition points and more half-court offensive schemes. If Seton Hall can force turnovers, so much the better, as that would negate an Orange advantage. The "Four Factors" look at Seton Hall's offense versus Syracuse's defense:

When Seton Hall has the ball...
Pirate O45.818.129.832.6
Orange D44.022.230.427.1

The Pirates' lack of offense is central to team woes on the court. Adjusted offense is 103.2 (per Ken Pomeroy), ranked #113 for Division 1. While among the top third of the division, they have problems scoring at crucial times during games, and have suffered through scoring droughts.

Want to Beat Syracuse? Then...
Post it on the web as soon as you figure it out. There are 12 Big East coaches very eager to get that information.
1. Slow it down, take away transition scoring opportunities. When possessions are low(er), the score is close(r). Make Syracuse pass the ball in a half-court set for a few possessions to disrupt their rhythm. Against John Beilein's relatively inexperienced Michigan team, the Orange were held to 61 possessions in a three point (53-50) win.
2. Make them miss. Shooting in college ball, like the NBA, is the strongest single determinant for victory. In the five games where the Orange have shot efficiency (eFG%) held to less than 47% their offensive efficiency was 98.6 and their margin of victory was 7.4 points. In the 10 games where they have converted at better than 47% their offensive efficiency is 121.5 with a margin of victory of 21.4 points.
3. Get physical. Syracuse's FTA/FGA rate is 38.8, at #158 they are ranked close to the mean of Division 1. They convert free throws at a fairly mediocre 66.3% (ranked #243, the bottom third in D1). In the three games where their FTA rate > 50%, their margin of victory is 8.4 points. Overall their average margin of victory is 16.9 points.

Want to Beat Seton Hall? Then...
Make them miss. It is that simple. In games where Seton Hall's eFG% is < 44%, the Pirates are 0-8. In games where the Hall's eFG% is 44.7% or higher they are 7-0. Night and day.

...The Orange travel very well. I expect the house will be closer to 65%-35% Seton Hall, unless the fan-base is too discouraged to turn out (hopefully that will not happen). A win would certainly reverse a too long trend of Syracuse wins at Seton Hall (in the last 10 games, the margin is 8-2 Syracuse, 1-4 on the Hall's home court) and re-energize the squad. A competitive showing (Pomeroy projects an eight point Syracuse win), would suggest there are more wins than anticipated in the schedule.

I will be live blogging the game for Rush the Court tomorrow at noon. Drop by and chat if you have the chance.

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