SFA- 1st Round Analysis

Syracuse defeats Stephen F. Austin 59-44 to advance to the second round. This wasn’t the greatest of efforts from Syracuse, but they were able to get by with their better size and skill. Here is some analysis and some interesting facts from this game:

Syracuse finished with 21 turnovers against SFA, who forced an average of 15 turnovers on the season. Syracuse was sloppy with the ball all game, something Jim Boeheim is sure to point out to his players. This was the seventh time the Orange had 20+ turnovers in a game this season. Amazingly, the Orange are 6-1 in those games (the loss at Providence being the only blemish).

Jonny Flynn had 7 turnovers, matching his season high (low?) in that department. Similarly to the team turnover note above, Syracuse has won all three of those games (home vs. Rutgers, UConn in B.E.T. and SFA today).

Paul Harris was a monster on the boards today, getting 16 rebounds. It was his 11th double-digit rebound game of the year, and was second only to his 22 rebound effort against UConn in the B.E.T. (in that game he only had 8 rebounds in regulation). His defensive rebound rate (a measure of how effective a player is at rebounding) was 25.1%, which means he grabbed a quarter of all of Syracuse’s defensive rebounds today. That would rank him 17th in the country if he had done that over the course of a season (his season percentage is 17.9%- 308th in the country).

Syracuse was great in the first half, shooting 62.5% of their shots. The second half was atrocious by comparison, as the Orange shot only 32.3%. Their effective FG% was 47.3% (down from 64.6% in the first half) compared to their season eFG% of 54.4.

Syracuse had their worst game of the season in terms of outside shooting, hitting only 2 of 16 (12.5%) from three. Their previous low was 3-14 (21.4%) vs. West Virginia in February. I don’t know if it was trying to shoot in a new arena or if they still didn’t have their legs after the B.E.T., but they will have to shoot better from behind the arc if they want to advance any further.

Syracuse was able to get inside on the smaller Lumberjacks:

FG-FGA Points
In Paint 18-33 36
Mid Range 5-6 10
Three Pointer 2-16 6
Free Throws 7-10 7

The biggest threat from SFA today was supposed to come from their back-to-back Southland Conference Players of the Year, Josh Alexander and Matt Kingsley. The Syracuse zone worked well against SFA today, but was especially effective against the big two:

FG FG % PTS
Alexander 4-20 20.0 8
Kingsley 1-8 12.5 2
Rest of team 13-45 28.9 34

As usual Nunes has post game links up (including a great “Dexter” shot) and Chuck has some thoughts on the game as well.

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SFA 1st Half Breakdown

A big first half for Syracuse, who leads 38-22. Here is some first half analysis:

Syracuse shot well overall, going 15-24 from the field. Here is a breakdown of how they set up their offense:

Off Dribble Off Pass Off Tip
FG-FGA 7-11 8-12 0-1
3-pt FG-FGA 1-2 0-2 0-0
Points 15 16 0

The Orange had no trouble getting into the paint against the smaller Lumberjacks:

FG-FGA Points
In Paint 11-17 22
Mid Range 3-3 6
Three Pointer 1-4 3
Free Throws 7-10 7

Syracuse scored 1.13 points per possesion in the first half, while SFA scored .61 per possesion.

Coming into the game SFA had the number 3 effective FG percentage defense in the country at 42.6 %. Today, Syracuse had an eFG% of 64.6 in the first half.

Great start for Syracuse. Let’s see if they can keep it going in the second half with a shorter bench (Kristoff out with the flu).

A Closer Look At SFA

Jeff from CollegeHoops.net’s blog March Madness All Season was kind enough to answer some questions about today’s opponent, Stephen F. Austin:

SFA features the last two conference P.O.Y. in Jeff Alexander and Matt Kingsley. Break down their games, and how do they match up against Syracuse’s predominantly 2-3 zone?

Josh Alexander and Matt Kingsley are a dynamite frontcourt duo, but the two have completely different games. Alexander is an outstanding three-point shooter who can really stretch a defense despite plenty of defensive attention. He is the school’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder even though he is just 6-4. He is also the team’s Jonny Flynn in terms of minutes, averaging more than 34 minutes per game and playing at least 40 minutes on nine separate occasions. Kingsley, a 6-9 force down low, is a very efficient finisher in the paint who can score and rebound with the best of them. He was the Southland Conference Player of the Year this season, as he dominated inside while Alexander received the majority of the opposition’s attention on the perimeter. Against the 2-3, Alexander is going to have to knock down his threes — and he is going to have to hit them consistently. Kingsley has the size and skill-set to perform well down low, but Onuaku’s athleticism could give him problems.

Everything from their stats indicates they play a tough man-to-man defense. What is your take on how they play d?

The Lumberjacks are an outstanding defensive team, one of the the best in the country. Despite their slow pace of play, they rank near the top of the nation in defensive efficiency and also rank third in effective field goal percentage defense. They guard the perimeter extraordinarily well and then corral the misses at a high rate. SFA has allowed more than 70 points twice this season, both in victories (including their triple-overtime win against North Dakota State). Even if you look at the BCS conference opponents they played — Texas Tech, Arkansas, Texas A&M — they only gave up an average of fewer than 64 points per game.

Can Syracuse be successful shooting the three against SFA, who is 2nd in the nation in opponents 3-pt pct?

With the style that Stephen F. Austin plays at — a slow, grind-it-out pace played mostly in the half-court — Syracuse is going to have to hit its threes. Devendorf and Rautins are going to have to make the most of their open looks, because they aren’t going to come that often. They shouldn’t expect too many transition shots, as SFA rarely turns the ball over. Therefore, Devendorf and Rautins are going to have to be active without the ball, moving around to open spots on the perimeter. If they get open, Flynn will be able to find them, as he will likely be guarded by the 5-3 Eric Bell, who has quick hands but is obviously small in stature. Additionally, having a height advantage on the perimeter could be key on the wings, too. Girod Adams is just 5-10, while Devendorf and Rautins run 6-4 and 6-5, respectively. The Orange will be able to get open looks at the basket due to their height — they just have to knock them down, because they might not get an abundance of second-chance opportunities.

SFA won the Southland Conference regular season and tourney. Exactly how tough is this conference? Are we talking the next Missouri Valley (multiple bid teams, big tourney upsets)?

The Southland has been underrated over the past two seasons, but I don’t anticipate it becoming the next Missouri Valley. Stephen F. Austin had a decent resume last year and owned a win over Oklahoma, but they weren’t deserving of an at-large bid. Basically, there’s not enough good teams on a consistent, year-to-year basis to anticipate multiple bids in a given year.

I see you had Flynn/Devendorf/Harris as the Orange trio in your top 10. Any thoughts on Harris’ erratic play of late? He seems to be struggling and keeps getting pulled by Boeheim.

I didn’t even realize how poorly Harris was playing lately. If you take away his mammoth effort against Connecticut in the six-overtime classic (29 points and 22 rebounds), he is averaging six points and about 4.8 rebounds over his past four games. Furthermore, he has had 10 single-digit scoring efforts in his last 16 games, as compared to just three in his first 18 games. It seems that Syracuse has been operating well offensively without him in the game, as Rautins comes in and provides another shooter on the wing. With the way he has been stroking the ball, it is tough to keep him out of the game. However, Harris could be a real key against Stephen F. Austin. He has the athleticism to give Alexander problems on the wing, and is a very difficult match-up for the Lumberjacks defensively.

What is your prediction for this game?

I think that Stephen F. Austin is a very solid team, and one that could give Syracuse a scare early in the game. The Lumberjacks will slow the game down and not allow many open looks for Syracuse, especially from the perimeter. Plus, they are not going to back down, as this is a very experienced group that has faced several major-conference teams over the past couple of seasons. However, I think that Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense and athleticism will be the difference. SFA was last in the Southland in three-point shooting, and Alexander is really their only consistent perimeter threat. They just don’t have enough guns on the wings to shoot over the zone. Additionally, the Orange’s frontcourt athleticism will give SFA problems on the boards and inside with Kingsley. Syracuse will pull away in the end in what will very likely be a low-scoring affair. I’ll take Syracuse by 12, 66-54.

Thanks, Jeff for some more insight into the Lumberjacks. As for me, I think Syracuse will be able to get some open looks and the zone will keep Kingsley in check.

Syracuse 71 – SFA 58

Come back at halftime and after the game for some analysis and a breakdown of the game.

The Fatigue Factor

Most Syracuse fans are concerned about what playing 4 (really, 5 games) in the Big East tourney is going to do for our hopes in the NCAA tourney. We all remember what happened in 2006 and would like to avoid the same fate. I was relieved when Syracuse was given a Friday first round game to get an extra day’s worth or rest.

But as John Gasaway of Basketball Prospectus points out, that 2006 team was a much different case than this year’s squad:

I think Syracuse might have lost because, as a five-seed, they were almost certainly the most over-seeded team of the tempo-free era, one that could not beat a correctly slotted 12-seed. In Big East play that season the ‘Cuse was outscored by their opponents by 0.08 points for every possession they played, a level of performance equal to what teams like Cincinnati and Iowa have achieved this year within their respective conferences.

And he is right. There is no way we were a five seed that year. As I mentioned previously, we went from being out or nearly out of the tourney to a five for winning the Big East tournament. And don’t forget, that Texas A&M team featured Acie Law and was a 3 seed the following year. And Gerry McNamara’s injury was a much bigger factor than the fatigue factor in that loss.

This year’s team is better than the 2006 team, and healthier. Kristof is healthy after his scarier-looking-than-it-actually-was fall. So Syracuse fans shouldn’t put too much thought into this year’s team facing the same hurdles as the 2006 team.

This Is Who Will Win Your Office Pool

After reading Champ’s great “Don’t Be That Guy” post over at Three Idiots, I was reminded of one of the greatest sports sketches in SNL history. Relive the magic below, including a pre-Super Bowl champ Peyton Manning being told he pulled a Peyton Manning by choking with his tourney picks. Classic.

And for the record, I’ve been filling out brackets since I was about 7, and have yet to win a single dollar. Therefore feel free to ignore my selections that I will post later in the week.

Cuse Making Some Lists

Jeff from CollegeHoopsNet.com’s March Madness All Season blog has some tournament previews up, and the Orange fair pretty well overall from where Jeff sits. Here is a look at the Syracuse players on the lists as well as some potential tourney opponents:

Top 30 Three-Point Shooters: Andy Rautins is 16th. Potential second round opponents Arizona State (Rihards Kuksis, #3) and Temple (Dionte Christmas, #26) are also represented on this list.

Top 12 Backcourts: Orange crack the top 5 in this one, behind UNC (#1 seed in the South regional), Gonzaga (#4 seed in the South), Memphis, and Washington. Fellow Big Easters Villanova (7th) and Marquette (9th) also make the cut.

Top 10 Trios: UNC (#1) and Gonzaga (#10) make the cut in this one as well, with the Orange trio of Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris coming in at 9th. While Harris is the 3rd leading scorer on the club and the leading rebounder, he has been horribly inconsistant of late. In the UConn game he finished with 29 points and 22 boards, but if you look at the other games he’s played recently, you’ll notice a pattern of mediocrity:

  • Marquette: 9 pts, 5 reb
  • Seton Hall: 4 pts, 6 reb
  • West Viginia: 6 pts, 4 reb
  • Louisville: 5 pts, 4 reb

Granted, fatigue played a huge factor in the WVU and Louisville . But with Jim Boeheim yanking him in and out of the lineup lately because of his inconsistent play and the emergance of Kristoff at the 4, I think Paul has had a rough couple of weeks. I think any success Syracuse will have in the NCAA tourney will only come if Paul brings his “A-game” to the table.

Then again, Arinze Onuaku makes Paul Harris look like Mr. Consistency by comparison. What the hell happened to A.O.? I guess I’m glad our back court is playing as good as it is.

We’ll hopefully have a Q&A with Jeff this week, including some more info on SFA.

Stephen F. Austin Preview

After Syracuse was rewarded for their great play in the Big East Tournament with a 3 seed, the next thought for Orange fans was “Who the hell is Stephen F. Austin”? I did some research on them so you wouldn’t have to. Here is what I now know about the Lumberjacks.

HOW WAS THEIR SEASON?

SFA won the Southland Conference Tournament after winning the regular season title as well. They have won the regular season title in two consecutive seasons. After starting 1-2, including a last second loss to a bad Louisiana Monroe team, the Lumberjacks won ten of their next twelve. SFA finished 13-3 in conference and beat SE Louisiana, Texas A&M Corpus Christi, and Texas San Antonio to win the automatic bid.

SFA faced three “Big Six” Conference schools, falling to Texas A&M (55-48), Arkansas (67-51) and Texas Tech (69-55).

SFA are currently 30th in this seasons Mid-Major top 25 poll on Collegeinsider.com (new poll will be released later today) after finishing 14th in last years final poll.

WHO IS THEIR COACH?

Danny Kaspar is in his ninth year with SFA, compiling a 376-155 record with the Lumberjacks. He has led SFA to two straight Southland regular season titles after inheriting a team that won a combined six games in the two years prior to his arrival. He has coached two consecutive Southland Conference Players of the Year and was voted the conference Coach of the Year in 2008.

Before coming to SFA Kaspar coached at the University of the Incarnate Word, a division two school in San Antonio, where he compiled a 219-52 record. According to his official bio, “In 27 years as a collegiate coach, Kaspar has only been associated with six teams with losing records. In two of those seasons, the teams were one win away from .500 records or better.”

His family has also been touched by cancer, something familiar to Jim Boeheim.

WHO IS THEIR STAR?

2009 Southland Conference Player of the Year Matt Kingsley leads the way for the Lumberjacks. Kingsley is a 6-9 senior center who averaged 16.1 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, both of which placed him 5th in the conference. Kingsley also hit 55.6% of his shots (while only attempting one three pointer) on the year. He reached double figures in all but seven games this year and had nine double-doubles.

WHO ARE THEIR OTHER PLAYERS?

SFA is led by the 2008 and 2009 Southland Conference Players of the year, Josh Alexander (left) and Matt Kingsley (right).

SFA is led by the 2008 and 2009 Southland Conference Players of the year, Josh Alexander (left) and Matt Kingsley (right).

If Kingsley is 1, then Josh Alexander is 1A for the Lumberjacks. He too is a Southland Player of the Year, having won the award last season. The senior forward averages 14.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. He has led the team in scoring and rebounding every year of his career except this season, and is also a decent 3 point shooter, although his 3-pt percentage has fallen every year of his career, from 47.7% in his freshman year to 35% this season. Obviously the new three point line has had a negative impact on him, as last season he shot 41% from the shorter arch. (editor’s note- Donna Ditota has a great article about SFA up which mentions that Alexander suffered from a high ankle sprain this season but is now healthy, which easily could have contributed to his poor 3-pt numbers this year).

SFA returned four starters from last years team. In addition to Kingsley and Alexander, senior power forward Nick Shaw (6.1 points, 6.0 rebounds) and junior point guard Eric Bell (3.6 points, 3.4 assists) add a lot of veteran leadership to this squad. In fact, they are the top ranked team in their conference in terms of experience.

Their best player off the bench is 6-2 guard Eddie Williams, who finished the year with averages of 7.4 points and 2.7 assists, as well as an impressive 2.3:1 assist to turnover ratio.

HOW DO THEY PLAY?

While I haven’t seen the Lumberjacks play, their coach had something to say about their defense before the season in the Blue Ribbon Yearbook preview:

I’ve always felt like even without a talented group, you have a good chance of winning if your defense is there every night,” he said. “Kids don’t mean to miss shots, but sometimes they just don’t fall, so we try to play tough defense every night.

Their stats say something about their defense as well: it is good. Actually, very good. Through March 12th, SFA is ranked second in the nation in scoring defense, giving up only 55.8 points per contest (Washington is first with 50.0). They were also second in the nation in scoring defense the previous year. Their field goal defense is ranked 19th overall, as they’ve held their opponents to just 42.5% from the field (they were third in the nation at 37.2% heading into last week). They also defend the three, holding opponents to just 28.6% from behind the arc (second best in the nation).

If you’re into advanced stats, Ken Pomeroy has SFA with the 13th best defensive efficiency in the nation, and 3rd best opponent’s effective FG%. The also rank 20th in opponent’s offensive rebounding percentage, so don’t expect too many follow-ups off your own misses, Mr. Harris. Pomeroy also says they’re defensive fingerprint is of a man-to-man team. Helpful considering I didn’t see them play once this season.

HOW DO THEY MATCH UP?

It’s tough to say without having seen them, but on paper they aren’t the easiest 14 seed to ever be in the tournament. Defensively they seem to be the type of team that can hassle their opponents all night and force bad shots, while also keeping teams off the offensive glass. Their 3-pt defensive stats are very good, although Syracuse played 3-such teams this week in UConn, West Virginia and Louisville. If the Syracuse guards are able to hit their shots and our zone forces them to shoot from outside (ranked 266th in the nation), we should easily find ourselves playing on Sunday.