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The State of the Program

"An unsophisticated forecaster uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts - for support rather than for illumination."
-Andrew Lang

There's no point in sugarcoating the truth: Syracuse is not going to hoist any championship hardware down in Philadelphia this coming May. This team has too many inherent flaws to topple the lacrosse establishment in the tournament this year.

What is really disappointing about the 2006 edition of the Orange, however, is that the team has yet to show any marked improvement since last year's campaign. That is simply frustrating. With all the talent dotting Syracuse's roster, one could reasonably anticipate that this team was poised to turn the corner and re-position itself as one of the nation's most competitive clubs.

This, unfortunately, has not happened.

I understand that there are a lot of things that cannot be measured by statistics. Intangibles such as senior leadership, go-to strategy, and injuries do not translate well onto a spreadsheet. However, given the stable of talent Coach Desko has armed himself with, the Orange should transcend most of these statistical drawbacks as Desko's slew of interchangable parts mitigate the anomalies that often arise.

With this in mind, I thought I'd present what I am now calling "Victory Factors." With the exception of shooting percentage, these statistics are possessed based illustrations of efficiency and value. They are indicative of offensive and defensive strength or weakness and depict those necessary elements for success.

For this essay, I've punched up the numbers for Syracuse's 2005 and 2006 campaigns. As you can see, not much improvement has taken place from 2005 to 2006. In fact, in many aspects of the game, Syracuse has actually shown regression.

That is sad, considering the 2005 edition of the Orange accumulated only a 7-6 record.

Victory Factors - 2005

Victory Factors - 2006

Poss/Gm = Possessions per game
Sht% = Shooting percentage
Sht/Poss = Shots per possession
G/Poss = Goals per possession

There are a couple of things that immediately jump off the page as significant. The first that Syracuse's defense has improved, at best, marginally from 2005 to 2006. While one may attribute this lack of improvement as indicative of Syracuse starting a new goalie in the cage, the statistics do not bear this out. If this were all Coluccini's fault, Syracuse would be yielding more goals per possession in 2006 than it did in 2005. That simply is not the case.

Thus, I'm left with the conclusion that Syracuse's lack of development falls squarely on the shoulders of Steve Panarelli and company. Opponent possessions per game is up in part because Syracuse's close defense and defensive midfield has been almost unwatchable clearing the bean this year -- the Orange has cleared the ball safely on only 80.43% of its opportunities (as opposed to 84.27% in 2005). If Syracuse would simply address this concern, the team would capitalize greatly as the offensive unit operates at a greater efficiency than its counterpart. The 2006 Virginia game is a terrific example of this.

Furthermore, Syracuse's opposing offenses are shooting the ball at a better percentage this season than in 2005. This is simply another example of the defense failing to take advantage of opportunities and play up to its potential. If Syracuse's poles and short sticks could actually clamp down on an opponent's offensive guns and limit the number of clean looks available, things would begin to fall together. Moreover, Syracuse's opponents seem to be scoring a great deal on unsettled situations where the Orange were unable to corral a loose ball in its own defensive end. A little more focus in this area in the game would greatly increase Syracuse's efficiency and, residually, its opportunities for victory.

Another aspect of the "Victory Factors" I find interesting is that Syracuse is playing at a remarkably slow pace this season. While probably due to injuries to its core group of midfielders (Rommel, Brooks, and Niewieroski), it is interesting to see how much Coach Desko has slowed down this team from last year. Getting out-paced by three possessions a contest is Princeton territory, not Syracuse.

Finally, I am very concerned about Syracuse's shooting percentage in 2006 as opposed to 2005. There are two aspects of this statistic that I find disturbing. First, as Syracuse is allowing its opponent more possessions per game than it can generate, every shot Syracuse puts on cage is precious. In essence, the fewer possessions a team has, the more important every shot in those possessions become as they are limited in number and scope. Thus, because the Orange is not connecting on a higher percentage of shots than its opponents, the team is necessarily playing behind the eight-ball for much of the game. This team cannot handicap itself like that on a game-to-game basis.

The second aspect of this statistic that is frightening is that once again, the stat sheet bears out that Syracuse has no go-to scorer. With a go-to scorer, a shooting percentage will rise as that player tends to fill the net with tallies on a relatively consistent basis. Syracuse's inconsistency -- in terms of shooting percentage -- illustrates that this team maintains no consistent scoring threat.

In other words, the Orange need another Powell. Or Gait. One of the two; I don't particularly care either way.

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