Syracuse’s Shooting Makes These Orange Especially Dangerous

Posted by Charlie Maikis on November 29th, 2016

Syracuse basketball has long built its identity on defense, as head coach Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone has flummoxed opponents with its length, athleticism and schemes for several decades now. Five games into this season, the Orange again own an exceptional defense (sixth nationally, per KenPom) that is predicated on holding opponents to the lowest effective field goal percentage in college basketball (36.5% eFG) and the lowest three-point percentage in the nation (20.3% 3FG). Where this year’s team is different, however, is on the offensive end of the court. So far Boeheim’s club is taking over a third of its shots from behind the arc and scoring over a third of its points from there, something just one other Syracuse team of the last five years has done — his Final Four darlings from a season ago.

Jim Boeheim's team looks to be set for a postseason run. (Getty)

Jim Boeheim’s team looks to be set for a postseason run. (Getty)

Boeheim recruits players that fit well into his defensive scheme — guys that are rangy and athletic enough to rotate quickly into gaps while running shooters off the three-point line, clog passing lanes and protect the paint. In many but not all cases, those players are not well-suited to become long-distance offensive threats. That is why versatile players such as Tyler Lydon can make all the difference for Boeheim’s teams. On the way to last year’s Final Four, Lydon averaged 1.8 blocks and 1.1 steals per game while spacing the floor on the other end to the tune of 41 percent shooting from three-point range. This season the sensational sophomore is at it again (1.4 BPG, 1.0 SPG, 50% 3FG) as the Orange have gotten off to a solid 4-1 start with the only loss coming at #20 South Carolina. Being able to defend at a very high level in the 2-3 zone while also providing a legitimate offensive threat is an invaluable asset for Boeheim’s team as the Orange run their system in the rugged ACC.

Based on its own precedent, Syracuse could have its sights set on another deep NCAA Tournament run this March. In the five seasons since the 2011-12 campaign, the Orange have made two Final Fours (2013, 2016) and one Elite Eight (2012). In 2014 they lost in the Round of 32 and in 2015 they served a self-imposed postseason ban (a season that may or may not have resulted in an NCAA appearance). In the three years Syracuse made deep postseason runs, it took an average of 34.5 percent of their field goal attempts from three-point range and shot 34.9 percent on those attempts. In the two down seasons those same numbers considerably lower — 28 percent and 30.6 percent, respectively. Keeping that in mind, this season’s three-point attempts share of 36.9 percent (second most during this span) and conversion rate of 43.9 percent (the team’s best during this span) look very encouraging.

While it is still a young season and the Orange will eventually square off against a loaded ACC schedule, all indications in the first couple weeks of the year suggest that Syracuse could be headed for a very good season. If the team’s recent history tells us anything, the combination of an unyielding zone defense, great affinity for the three-ball, and more versatile talents than ever before, could have Boeheim’s group on track for his first National Championship since 2003.

Charlie Maikis (15 Posts)

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