Experience with Syracuse basketball’s zone can be indicator of defensive efficiency

Syracuse struggled on defense last season
Syracuse struggled on defense last season

Last week, I wrote about whether collegiate playing experience had a direct correlation with overall win total. Not surprisingly, the answer was, with a relative degree of mathematical uncertainty, yes.

But it isn’t all just about collegiate experience, right? After all, last season, the Orange actually had a relatively experienced team, with two fifth-year players in the starting lineup in John Gillon and Andrew White III.

The issue wasn’t overall experience. The issue was experience with SU’s vaunted 2-3 zone.

In 2016-17, Syracuse’s adjusted defense according to KenPom.com was 102.3, or 118th in the country, which is about as bad as we’ve seen SU’s zone in recent memory.

Last week, I picked three random teams and came up with a multiplier to determine wins based on years of experience. This week, I tried to refine it a bit more by removing some players who, while they had more experience, were non-factors, and would skew the statistics.

In other words, a guy like Dajuan Coleman would have four years of experience playing the zone, but by the end of the year, he was an afterthought in the rotation. So I really only accounted for the six players that Jim Boeheim used in his rotation:

Player Years Experience in the Zone
Frank Howard 2
Tyus Battle 1
Andrew White 1
John Gillon 1
Tyler Lydon 2
Taurean Thompson 1
Average Experience 1.3

Divide the overall adjusted defense of 102.3 against the years experience of 1.3, and that gives you a multiplier of 78.7.

Just so we’re clear, this is a game of golf. The lower the multiplier, the better it bodes for the adjusted defensive statistics.

» Related: Does experience necessarily translate into wins for Syracuse basketball?

Compare that to the experience of the guys who made major contributions on the 2012-13 team:

Player Years Experience
Michael Carter-Williams 2
CJ Fair 3
Baye Moussa Keita 3
Brandon Triche 4
Rakeem Christmas 2
James Southerland 4
Average Experience 3

That 2012-13 team won 30 games on the way to the Final Four. Not included in this chart is Jerami Grant, Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney, who didn’t contribute much on the court.

This group finished seventh in the country in adjusted defense, with a rating of 86.7. That’s a crazy low multiplier of 28.9 of points per years of experience.

Let’s now try the 2014-15 team:

Player Years Experience
Michael Gbinije 2
BJ Johnson 2
Ron Patterson 2
Chris McCullough 1
Trevor Cooney 3
Kaleb Joseph 1
Tyler Roberson 2
Average Experience 1.86

Left off this chart were Dajuan Coleman and Chinonso Obokoh. I thought about leaving Chris McCullough off this chart as well given he got hurt in non-conference play, but he did play enough games where he would’ve been on the borderline of being granted a medical redshirt, so I left him in.

Also keep in mind here that Gbinije was a redshirt junior, but is docked a year since he spent his freshman season with Duke.

That team finished 18-13 overall and didn’t qualify for the postseason.

You can really see how the inexperience hurt Syracuse. The team finished with an adjusted defensive rating of 104.8, or 118th in the NCAA. The multiplier in this case would be 54.7.

I then moved on to this year’s team:

Player Years Experience
Frank Howard 3
Paschal Chukwu 2
Tyus Battle 2
Howard Washington 1
Oshae Brissett 1
Geno Thorpe 1
Bourama Sidibe 1
Average Experience 1.57

There’s some degree of guessing with this year’s team, since you have nine scholarship players, and realistically only six or seven rotation spots (after all, when is the last time Boeheim played all of his players?).

For the sake of argument, I’m going to say there are seven rotation spots, since I think Sidibe will crack the starting rotation simply because Chukwu will likely be in foul trouble all of the time. I left Matt Moyer and Marek Dolezaj out, with Boeheim projected to play a three guard lineup of Battle-Howard-Thorpe for extended minutes.

Chukwu, though a junior, spent his frosh season elsewhere, so he only gets two years of experience. Similarly, Thorpe only gets a year of experience since he was at USF for three years.

So the good news is that this isn’t the most inexperience team playing the zone recently. That would be last year’s team.

Of course, the bad news is that the average years of experience is still less than the 2014-15 team that struggled and had a mediocre multiplier of 54.7. If we were to use that and the 2016-17 season (78.7) as the bellwethers for this season, that gives us an average multiplier of 66.7.

That comes out to an adjusted defense of 104.79, which will once again rank Syracuse toward the bottom of adjusted defenses.

Is this an exact science? Of course not. But you can see there is some correlation with years of overall experience in the zone and overall defensive efficiency ratings.

Perhaps this year will be the anomaly.

For more Syracuse coverage, Like our Facebook page and follow us @TheJuiceOnline.

Avatar photo
About Wes Cheng 2907 Articles
Wes has worked for Rivals.com covering the New York Knicks, as well as for Scout.com covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also been a contributing writer for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), for SportsNet New York (SNY) as a news desk writer covering all of New York professional sports, 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 with a degree in journalism. Contact him at wes[at]sujuiceonline.com.