It was well documented that the Achilles Heel of last year’s Syracuse team was rebounding. At a certain point, I no longer even reacted when the Orange gave up a bone-headed offensive rebound that led to second-chance points. It was expected.
Going into the season, I knew this year’s team was going to be better on the boards, but it wasn’t until Monday’s win against Detroit that it really sunk in just how much better it is. Even as the Orange repeatedly turned the ball over in the process of making Jim Boeheim’s 900th win much closer than it should have been, the team still seemed to corral every one of the Titans’ misses. It was almost … normal.
Syracuse’s rebounding has been overshadowed in a year where the team ranks in the top five nationally in points per game, steals per game and blocks per game. But the Orange has quietly emerged as one of the nation’s best rebounding teams. So far, it has outrebounded its opponents by an average of 10 per game, the 14th best margin in the country.
That statistic will inevitably worsen as Syracuse moves into the Big East schedule and plays better opponents. But there is still plenty of evidence that the improvement in rebounding is not due solely to weak opponents.
Rebounding percentage, or the percentage of available missed shots that a team or player manages to secure, is generally considered a better indicator of rebounding ability than rebound margin.
Last year, the Orange posted a 60.4 percent defensive rebounding percentage, which ranked 342nd in the nation. This year, the team has improved the statistic to 69.1 percent. That essentially means Syracuse gives up one less second chance for every 10 shots the opponents put up.
Syracuse has corralled more than 70 percent of the available defensive rebounds in five of its first 10 games. Last season, the Orange only had five games like that total.
Offensive rebounding has also improved. This year’s offensive rebounding percentage is 5 percent higher than last year’s. At 41 percent, Syracuse ranks 17th in the country in the category.
It would be easy to point to Dajuan Coleman’s massive frame and 6.5 rebounds per game as the reason for the improvement. But it really has been a team effort. In fact, the Orange has five players averaging 5 rebounds or more per game. Last year, Syracuse didn’t have five players who averaged more than 3 boards per game.
Some of the biggest improvements have come from Baye Moussa Keita and C.J. Fair, who led the team in rebounds per game last season. Fair improved his defensive rebounding percentage from 13.9 percent to 17.5 percent. Keita’s percentage jumped from 13.1 to 18.7. Coleman’s is off the charts at 23.6 percent.
Of course, the rebounding has not come entirely from the front line. Michael Carter-Williams has as many rebounds (50) as Rakeem Christmas. Carter-Williams’s 5 boards per game this season would have ranked third on the team last year. Even Brandon Triche has picked up 1.3 rebounds per game more than he did last season.
Syracuse was able to be a great team last year despite its poor rebounding ability because it made up for it by creating turnovers. This year, the Orange has continued to play excellent defense but are no longer giving up second chances. That should have the teams that will play Syracuse in March very worried.