Syracuse: Why College Basketball Is Changing—and Why the Orange Will Benefit
*I used to run a website called CuseAdelphia which focused on Syracuse and Philadelphia sports. I thought I would import some of the stories I wrote a long time ago onto Bleacher Report that weren't really time sensitive. This is from January 20th, 2008. Stats are as of 1/20/2008. Enjoy.*
Syracuse has been a victim of a new college game. It's faster and more aggressive. Teams are shooting the three ball at an increasing rate, and the pool of talent is growing. The 2-3 Zone is being left in the dust.
The NBA rule change that forces high school kids to go to college has forced players that used to play for the top BCS schools to go to the second tier of teams in the BCS schools and the top mid-majors.
Conferences like the Big East and Pac-10 might be the deepest those two conferences have ever been. In recent years the CAA, the MVC, and the Atlantic 10 have played to the level of BCS schools.
Teams that recruit one and done players will not be able to win national championships unless that one and done player enters a team one step away from a national championship.
The mid-majors win with experience and three-point shooting. The long ball has leveled the playing field for teams that can't draw the big name. They beat teams by recruiting players that might not nearly be the kind of playmakers that BCS conference schools have, but who can shoot the rock better than anyone.
This change in college basketball is affecting Syracuse. The Orange have been on a downfall since their national championship in 2003. During the last five years, they have become increasingly susceptible to the three-point shot when they play their trademark 2-3 zone. More and more players can hit the three-point shot, which is the easiest way to beat the zone.
From 2004 to 2008, the median percentage of a team's points that come from the three pointer has increased consistently by 2.3 percent over that time period. The team that scored the highest percentage of its points by the three-point shot in 2004 was Samford at 44.1 percent.
In the top ten were just two teams from BCS conference—Oregon, who went 18-13 in 2004, and Florida State, who went 19-14.
In 2008, the highest percentage belongs to one of Division I's newest teams, Presbyterian, at 47.8 percent.
Most of the BCS conferences stayed consistent in the percentage of the points they get from the three point shot, while the mid-majors and minor conference schools have increasingly become more dependent on the three point shot.
Teams' ability to shoot the three is also increasing. The median team in 2004 shot it at 34 percent, while in 2007 it was 35 percent. It's increased almost every year in between. In the top 10 each year, there are consistently only one or two BCS schools.
The ability to shoot the three stops the 2-3 zone in three different ways. It first has a direct effect on it. Teams can just shoot over it at will with more success.
The three point shot also forces teams in the 2-3 to stretch the zone further out past the three point line. This allows gaps in the zone to open up. The baseline and the area around the free throw line are more accessible to the offense if the defense is stretched.
Teams can do many different things in these areas given enough room when the zone is stretched. Two defenders are usually forced to collapse on the baseline, leaving someone open on the court.
The last way the three-point shot can attack the zone is the long rebounds that are typical of missed three-point attempts. The defender usually has the inside position to get the rebound, but many misses go over the heads of the defender and into the hands of the offense. It is also harder to box out in the zone.
This all is about to change.
Players who used to be able to hit the three won't shoot it anymore. Forwards and centers that occasionally found themselves behind the arc for a shot won't be shooting it anymore.
Opposing teams have consistently shot better against Syracuse over the past five years from behind the arc. In 2008, teams shot 35.4 percent from three. In 2004, that number was 28.9 percent. It has gotten worse every year.
It can be argued the team was worse defensively every year, but it also goes hand and hand with the notion teams are shooting better from three. Teams have more and more players every year that have the range to hit shots from 19'9". That number will be cut down dramatically when the line moves back to 20'9".
The rest of the 2007-2008 season will bring struggles to the Orange, but things will be better in 2009. The zone will once again rise to be a dominating form of defense. For at least the first year of the new distance, teams will struggle trying to figure out the 2-3 zone when their players don't have the kind of accuracy to beat it from three.
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