There were a number of striking aspects to Syracuse’s narrow victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday night.
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Among them, of course, was the issue of offensive rebounds and how many wound up in Orange hands –26 of 49 Syracuse rebounds overall. That result was a point of feverish post-game focus, but not necessarily put in context by observers.
An offensive rebound gained by an opponent is more than a failure of effort, positioning or determination. It’s also, quite simply, a defensive rebound lost, and a key statistic in measuring a team’s capacity to control an opposing attack.
So are turnovers forced. The Blue Devils generated only eight Syracuse turnovers and no fast break points. Notre Dame had six turnovers in a preceding loss.
An opponent’s field goal accuracy is another measure of defensive effectiveness. Notre Dame, the ACC’s best field goal shooting squad, hit .500 against Duke, almost exactly its average. Syracuse, the next-to-worst shooting unit in the league, made .352, a bit below its normal.
While the Orange were inefficient shooters at Durham – thus the numerous offensive rebounds to be had, not to mention the 3-8 conversion rate on free throws – they did make a killing by going 11-23 from 3-point range (.478 percent). Often they had open looks. This from a squad in the bottom half of the league in 3-point shooting percentage.
Taken together – numerous offensive rebounds yielded, lack of forced turnovers, opposition 3-point accuracy well above 40 percent – Duke’s recent defensive efforts don’t look very good. Then again, the Devils face a dilemma with their limited numbers and propensity for foul trouble. They must pace themselves for the long haul, even within games.
Syracuse is committed defensively to a 2-3 matchup zone, extended out to the 3-point line and populated with long, athletic players.
(Could Duke have benefited from use of a zone now and then to deflect the Orange’s repeated dribble penetration, especially with Derryck Thornton failing to stop Michael Gbinije in a freshman vs. senior mismatch? Boeheim said his team "ran almost the same play every play the second half.")
The 2-3 Syracuse alignment is notable for stifling opponents’ long-range shooting, surely in part because the defense already is deployed to contest threes. This year Jim Boeheim’s club is among the national leaders in 3-point field goal defense, pacing the ACC by holding opponents to .289 accuracy.
Duke tried 37 threes against the Orange, most in a game since its stunning, discombobulated loss to Mercer in the 2014 NCAAs. That day the Devils hit 15 of 37 from 3-point range for 63.4 percent of their points. Against Syracuse they converted but 10 times in 37 tries for 48.4 percent of their points.
Both portions of points, and attempts, are way above Duke norms, and a losing formulation. Over the two decades from 1996 through 2015, since Krzyzewski returned from his back woes through last season, the Blue Devils averaged 20.9 threes per outing and derived 29.4 percent of their points via the 3-pointer.
Mike Krzyzewski’s clubs have now played Boeheim’s five times as ACC members. When Duke managed to flash passers into the area near the foul line inside the zone, where they could function as the hub of an offensive wheel, or managed dribble penetration, it won three times. On those occasions the Blue Devils tried a healthy 21, 15 and 23 3-pointers, and never derived more than about a third of their scoring from the bonusphere.
But when the Syracuse zone dictated the terms of offensive engagement, the Devils over-emphasized shooting long jumpers and lost both times. They tried 36 threes, making 15 for 50.6 percent of their points, in a 91-89 defeat at the Carrier Dome on Feb. 1, 2014. The 37-try barrage the other night at Cameron was even less accurate, but comparably produced about half of Duke’s points (48.4 percent) in a 64-62 setback.
|Year||3M-3Att||3%||Gs||W-L||3A-FGA||3A as %
|* Led ACC in 3-point percentage.|