An early statistical analysis of Syracuse in close games

We’re about 1/3rd of the way through the college basketball season now, which means we’ve had enough time to gather some coherent data about the Syracuse basketball team. In five of Syracuse’s 10 games, the Orange has been in “clutch” situations.

What do I mean by “clutch?” Simply put, I looked at shots from the field and at the free throw line if the game was within 10 points at any time within two minutes left.

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Using this as our baseline, the games fall neatly into two categories of five games each. In the first category, we have Cornell, Fordham, Colgate, Indiana and Binghamton, where the result was determined by, at worst, the middle of the second half. That leaves St. Francis (NY), Minnesota, California, Baylor and St. John’s as games where shots in the final two minutes had an important outcome on the game.

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Let’s start with the St. Francis, a game that Syracuse actually trailed by with under two minutes to go:

Name FGM/FGA 3PM/3PA FTM/FTA Points
Trevor Cooney 0/1 0/0 0/0 0
Jerami Grant 1/1 0/0 2/2 4
CJ Fair 0/1 0/0 2/2 2
Michael Gbinije 1/1 0/0 0/0 2

Syracuse’s first game in Maui was against Baby Pitino’s Minnesota Golden Gophers. With under two minutes to go, Syracuse only had a two point lead before SU’s defense clamped down and forced three late turnovers.

Name FGM/FGA 3PM/3PA FTM/FTA Points
Trevor Cooney 0/1 0/1 0/0 0
Jerami Grant 0/0 0/0 4/4 4
CJ Fair 1/1 0/0 0/0 2
Tyler Ennis 0/0 0/0 2/3 2
Rakeem Christmas 0/1 0/0 0/0 0

The Orange followed this up with a win over California. If you remember, SU was in control by double-digits for most of the second half before Cal threatened late and cut the lead to 7 with 1:36 left. From that point on, the Orange’s backcourt of Ennis and Cooney took over.

Name FGM/FGA 3PM/3PA FTM/FTA Points
Trevor Cooney 1/1 0/0 2/2 4
Tyler Ennis 1/1 0/0 6/6 8

In the Maui Invitational Championship, CJ Fair took home the MVP by hitting two clutch midrange jumpers with Baylor threatening to make it a single possession game. But Fair’s jumpers came outside of two minutes. Instead, it was Cooney and Ennis again putting the game out of reach.

Name FGM/FGA 3PM/3PA FTM/FTA Points
Trevor Cooney 0/0 0/0 2/2 2
Tyler Ennis 0/0 0/0 2/3 2

That takes us to SU’s most recent game against St. John’s at Madison Square Garden in the Gotham Classic. Syracuse blew a 12 point halftime lead as St. John’s took the lead late in the second half. But in a game that was reminiscent of the Maui title game, Fair once again hit several key midrange jumpers to keep the Orange undefeated. This time, one of those jumpers came inside two minutes.

Name FGM/FGA 3PM/3PA FTM/FTA Points
CJ Fair 1/1 0/0 0/3 2
Tyler Ennis 0/0 0/0 2/2 2
Michael Gbinije 0/0 0/0 0/1 0

So, if you combine the stats of the five games, you get:

Name FGM/FGA 3PM/3PA FTM/FTA Points
Tyler Ennis 1/1 0/0 12/14 14
Jerami Grant 1/1 0/0 6/6 8
CJ Fair 2/3 0/0 2/5 6
Trevor Cooney 1/3 0/1 4/4 6
Michael Gbinije 1/1 0/0 0/1 2
Rakeem Christmas 0/1 0/0 0/1 0

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Here are some observations from these stats:

  • Obviously, you want Ennis with the ball in his hands in the clutch. We’ve heard all year how Ennis’ game resembles more of a senior than a freshman, and that’s reflected in his free throw percentage (85 percent).
  • Grant is only shooting 60 percent from the stripe on the season, but he hasn’t had any problems in the clutch going a perfect 6 for 6. That should be taken with a grain of salt though, because the Orange as a whole had one of its finest stretches from the line out in Hawaii.
  • Fair’s free throw percentage is a little skewed because of his three misses down the stretch against St. John’s, which was highly uncharacteristic of him. Speaking of Fair, it’s a great sign that he’s tied for the most “clutch” shots on the team. You obviously want your best player to have the ball with the game on the line. Still, Fair’s lack of stats also shows the weakness in using this metric. Some of Fair’s big shots against Baylor and St. John’s weren’t in the final two minutes, but certainly swayed the outcome of the game.
  • Cooney has taken (and missed) the only 3-pointer to this point. That has a lot to do with the Orange being ahead in late game situations. It’s also not surprising that Cooney is perfect at the line so far.
  • Overall, Syracuse is shooting 77 percent from the line in the final two minutes. Take out Fair’s anomaly against St. John’s, and the percentage goes up to 85 percent. Compare that to the season percentage of 68 percent.

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Wes Cheng

About Wes Cheng

Wes has worked for Rivals.com covering the New York Knicks, as well as for Scout.com covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also worked for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) and reported on the NBA and MLB for the New York Sportscene. A native of Long Island, New York, Wes graduated from Syracuse University in 2005. Follow him on Twitter @ChengWes.
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