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Syracuse-Rutgers Preview

Syracuse students agree: Rutgers is irrelevant.

While most media outlets having been lauding Demetris Nichols for his performance progression over the last four years, the player that has seen the strongest rise in his contributions to the Orange is senior center Darryl "Mookie" Watkins.

As a late edition to Jim Boehiem's Class of 2003 recruiting effort, Watkins came to the Salt City as a guy with a lot of raw potential. He always had the ability to block shots and get off of the floor, but question marks surrounded his overall fundamentals comprehension.

Four years later, Watkins has become an indispensable cog in the Syracuse attack on both ends of the floor. He is a dominating defensive force that has managed to control his penchant for picking up fouls. On offense, Watkins has developed a nice touch and stands as a reliable if not solid offensive rebounder.

He has, for all intents and purposes, become Syracuse's first two-dimensional center since Etan Thomas. And if Syracuse is going to make a run over its last 14 games, Watkins needs to continue his maturation.

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

Rutgers Offense
Four FactorsValueNt'l Rank
Eff. FG %45.8280
T/O %22.6179
Off. Reb. %35.9100
FT Rate27.497

Syracuse Defense
Four FactorsValueNt'l Rank
Eff. FG %43.819
T/O %22.1166
Off. Reb. %36.0244
FT Rate25.515

There's no need to sugarcoat the obvious: the Big East has not seen an offense this horrible since the peach basket era.

The Rutgers offense does nothing well. To wit:

  • Three-point field goal percentage -- 31.4 (268);
  • Two-point field goal percentage -- 45.1 (260);
  • Free throw percentage -- 65.7 (238); and
  • Assists per field goal made -- 43.6 (330)

And this is against the 106th strongest schedule in the country.

In the context of Rutgers' offensive strategy, the Scarlet Knights would like to play a fairly slow contest. With an adjusted tempo value of just over 64 possessions per game (the 283rd fastest attack in the country), Rutgers' mentality is to keep opponents from possessing the leather and scoring in transition.

Unfortunately for the Scarlet Knights, however, the pace of offensive play is not going to dictate Rutgers' success. As noted above, Rutgers simply cannot shoot the basketball. As Ken Pomeroy notes, the absolute key to Rutgers' offensive efficiency is the team's offensive effective shooting percentage. When the Scarlet Knights covert their attempts more efficiently than their opponents, Rutgers wins (save the contest against Lehigh).

With Syracuse holding its opponents under 44 percent in effective field goal percentage, however, the Scarlet Knights are in deep trouble.

The key for Syracuse, consequently, is to sit in its zone defense and let Rutgers shoot itself out of the basketball game. As noted, the Scarlet Knights are just horrendous at converting from distance. With the 2-3 zone's inherent proclivity for forcing opponents to resort to three-point attempts, if Syracuse concentrates on crashing the defensive glass -- which it did admirably against Marquette -- the Orange should be fine.

When Syracuse is on Offense

Syracuse Offense
Four FactorsValueNt'l Rank
Eff. FG %52.292
T/O %21.3117
Off. Reb. %36.588
FT Rate34.211

Rutgers Defense
Four FactorsValueNt'l Rank
Eff. FG %51.2211
T/O %21.3214
Off. Reb. %31.8102
FT Rate30.673
As bad as Rutgers plays with the basketball, the Scarlet Knights compound their deficiencies with an unreliable defensive effort.
In order to secure victory, Syracuse must limit its turnovers. Rutgers has performed fairly respectably when turning over its opponents, but is not particularly good at creating such events on a consistent basis. The key, therefore, is the play of Josh Wright and Eric Devendorf. If these two Orange can protect the basketball, Rutgers is likely to implode defensively as teams are shooting well against the Scarlet Knights:
  • Three-point shooting percentage -- 40.0 (317);
  • Two-point shooting percentage -- 46.9 (114);
  • Free throw percentage -- 70.4 (240); and
  • Assists per field goal made -- 61.2 (281)
The secondary issue Syracuse must focus on is getting the ball out in transition and keeping an uptempo pace throughout the contest. Despite the fact that the Orange is still shorthanded player-wise, the tempo of Wednesday's contest is increasingly important.
In Rutgers' seven losses, the Scarlet Knights played at a pace just under 66 possessions per game. In its eight victories, the games saw approximately 61 possessions (three games were played with less than 60 possessions). Thus, Syracuse needs to run Rutgers ragged and create unmitigated fatigue in a vastly less talented squad.

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