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Defensive Rebounding Woes

January 31, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Much of the talk surrounding Syracuse as of late has been the team’s horrific showing on the defensive glass. A nadir may have come Saturday, when West Virginia doubled up the Orange on the glass, but I’m going to discuss this area in the pace-adjusted format of defensive rebounding percentage.

WARNING: I’m about to get really, really nerdy. Like, even more than usual. Now is your chance to run.

For the uninitiated, defensive rebounding percentage takes into account the number of rebounding opportunities, rather than the traditional method of simply counting up the number of boards. For example, if a team gets 20 rebounds off 30 missed shots by the other team, either from the field or the free throw line, it’s considered better than if it corralled 20 rebounds off 35 missed shots, because the overall rate would be higher (66% versus 57%). A clip of 70% is what teams generally strive for, but Jim Boeheim’s zone defense, which puts players in a tough position to rebound opponents’ misses, has been especially ineffective this season. The Orange have cleaned the defensive glass at just 61.4%, the team’s lowest rate since the 2000-2001 season, according to StatSheet.com:

Deciphering why they’re doing so poorly, outside of simply operating within the confines of a 2-3 zone, is a project better left to those who can break down film to analyze positioning, the angles the ball takes off missed shots and other factors. However, if you’ve watched Syracuse regularly, the forwards and centers make such a habit of volleying the rock that without doing any real math, one can draw the conclusion that they wouldn’t be quite as bad if the players squeezed the ball more often instead of bobbling it around the paint.

The impact wouldn’t be that great, though. You see, not only is SU’s defensive rebounding rate near the bottom of the barrel when compared with recent team performances; they’re among the worst in the country, 328th out of 345 Division-I teams. Looking back at historical rankings, the Orange have generally finished between 250th and 300th, so while they’re traditionally well below average in this category, they’ve been downright awful this season. What I want to look at is whether having such a low defensive rebounding percentage is a detriment to the team’s national championship aspirations, based on recent history.

There is a bit of a saving grace in that defensive rebounding percentage, on its own, doesn’t correlate highly with cutting down the nets in a 70,000-seat venue in April. In fact, only two national champions since 2001 (Florida in 2007 and Kansas the next year) have posted defensive rebounding percentages greater than that 70% standard I talked about earlier:

Of the last 11 national champions, none have rebounded as poorly as this season’s Syracuse team. Each of the last eight teams to win it all have rebounded the ball at least 66% of the time. That doesn’t portend well for the 2012 Orange, but there may be a silver lining. Note that the team with the lowest rate among those 11 champions is, you guessed it, the 2003 Orange, who went all the way despite posting a ghastly defensive rebounding percentage of 63.4%.

If Syracuse is to overcome atrocious defensive rebounding to win six consecutive games after Selection Sunday, they have just the coach to show them the way.

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