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Notre Dame -- Syracuse Preview

Syracuse students agree: ESPNU = Bush League

How important is transition to Syracuse?
In a word: Inconsequential.
A lot has been made recently about the Orange's lack of pace over its last two games (St. John's and Louisville). In those two defeats, Syracuse, seemingly, failed to play at its preferred tempo. The reality, however, is that Syracuse played these games at an average adjusted tempo of 71 possessions.
On the season, Syracuse is averaging an adjusted tempo of 71.8 possessions per game.
The Orange's season performances in losses reinforces this fact. In Syracuse's six losses, the pace of play has averaged 69.5 possessions. The question, therefore, is what is the defining factor for Syracuse in the context of success and defeat.
A reasonable argument lies in the difference between offensive and defensive turnover percentage. While subjectively strong, the relationship is tenuous at best. When Syracuse has turned over its opponents, the Orange has strengthened its defensive efficiency, yet the ability for Syracuse's guards to value the basketball has not had the impact on success as one would reasonably anticipate.
The most important aspect for one to consider is Syracuse's offensive effective field goal percentage. Specifically, when Syracuse shoots the ball well -- regardless of how well its opponents convert -- the Orange are tough to stop. Unfortunately, the stats support such a conclusion.
On the season, Syracuse has registered an offensive effective field goal percentage under 50 eight times. The Orange lost all but three of those contests (the victories came against St. Francis (NY), Texas El-Paso, and Marquette). In Syracuse's lone defeat in which the Orange shot above the 50.0 mark (Oklahoma State), Syracuse lost because it was destroyed on the defensive glass.
In short, if Syracuse is knocking down its attempts -- whether in transition or otherwise -- the Orange is going to win far more often than it will lose. The key, accordingly, is to find ways for Syracuse's best converters from the field (Demetris Nichols, Terrence Roberts, Eric Devendorf, and Watkins) to get better looks on the floor.

As always, for an exhaustive explanation of Pomeroy's methodology and statistical theory, this link may be a useful resource.

When Syracuse is on Defense

Notre Dame Offense
Four FactorsValueNt'l Rank
Eff. FG %55.121
T/O %19.244
Off. Reb. %37.069
FT Rate32.421

Syracuse Defense
Four FactorsValueNt'l Rank
Eff. FG %43.19
T/O %20.5232
Off. Reb. %36.0262
FT Rate26.616

No matter how well a zone defense is played, the strategy is susceptible to defeat in two instances: against solid outside shooting and interior offensive rebounding.

Unfortunately for the Orange, Notre Dame does both very well.

Led by seniors Colin Falls and Russell Carter, the Irish are one of the most perimeter-oriented teams in the country (54th in 3PA/FGA). Converting on 39.0 percent of its long-distance attempts, the Irish are exploiting the theory governing effective field goal percentage. Thus, unlike recent editions of the Irish, Notre Dame is cashing on its offensive philosophy of shooting from deep early and often.

Augmenting Notre Dame's ability to convert from behind the arc is the Irish's ability on the offensive glass. With only four players under 6' 7", Notre Dame has crashed the glass and wiped them pretty clean. This has led to numerous second-chance attempts, which has undoubtedly effected the team's two-point shooting percentage (52.9 percent on the season).

The question, therefore, is how Syracuse can combat this twofold attack. The Orange has performed well against perimeter-oriented clubs (Syracuse's opponents are only cashing in on 31.2 percent of its three-point attempts while registering a astronomical 39.0 3PA/FGA value). Against Notre Dame, however, Jim Boeheim's zone defense may not have enough juice to neutralize the Irish attack considering how well Notre Dame has crashed the glass (as noted above, Syracuse is in the bottom of the country in defensive offensive rebounding percentage).

The solution: a little more man-to-man defense. Syracuse has premised its reputation on sound zone defense and, accordingly, should not simply abandon it because the Orange is playing a sound perimeter club. However, a little defensive variety -- whether it be through some timely full court pressure or otherwise -- may disrupt the Notre Dame attack.

In short, the less comfortable the Irish feel from the outside, the better chance Syracuse has at victory.

When Syracuse is on Offense

Syracuse Offense
Four FactorsValueNt'l Rank
Eff. FG %52.484
T/O %22.2180
Off. Reb. %35.2117
FT Rate33.114

Notre Dame Defense
Four FactorsValueNt'l Rank
Eff. FG %47.271
T/O %22.3144
Off. Reb. %28.113
FT Rate31.070
Last season, Notre Dame was one of the worst defensive clubs in the country. While not the sole reason for the Irish's woeful performance in 2005-2006 (a lack of interior play played a major role in the team's struggles), it surely did not help.
Fast forward to 2006-2007 and the Irish have become a pretty good defensive team. It has markedly improved its ability on the defensive glass (up over five percentage points from last season), and has improved its on-the-ball defense. The end result is a defense that will not lose Notre Dame games this season.
To beat this defense, Syracuse is going to have its worked cut out for it. The Orange has not relied on its outside ability much this season (Syracuse is ranked 177th in 3PA/FGA). Yet, Syracuse is cashing in on 37.7 percent of its long-distance attempts. As Notre Dame is not particularly adept at limiting three-point conversions (235th in defensive three-point shooting percentage), the Orange has the opportunity to exploit the Irish defense and give Mike Brey a taste of his own medicine.
However, given Syracuse's recent offensive woes, relying on three-point attempts is not going to win the game for Syracuse. The best chance Syracuse has is for its frontcourt to really emphasize the offensive glass and convert underneath. For whatever reason, the Orange has gone away from Roberts and Watkins late in games and, consequentially, has struggled. A solid empahsis on the team's inside play should reap rewards.

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