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Friday, December 10, 2010
Cuse's poor shooting could become issue

By Eamonn Brennan

Syracuse thoroughly dominated Michigan State Tuesday night. For those questioning whether the Orangemen's occasionally unimpressive (albeit undefeated start) was worth worrying about, the MSU win should have settled any debate.

It revealed a host of positives: Jim Boeheim's zone is as effective as ever, this Cuse team can get to the rim and score in the post as well as any team in the country, Rick Jackson is a monster, et al. But there was one negative to emerge from Syracuse's performance, one that has bothered the Orange throughout the season, and one that could rear its ugly head in a variety of ways before Syracuse mounts up for the NCAA tournament: outside shooting.

Boeheim's team entered Madison Square Garden having shot the ball poorly from beyond the arc all year, and nothing changed Tuesday night. Syracuse went 2-of-11 from three, good for 18.2 percent. After that performance, Syracuse's 2010 three-point field goal percentage dipped to 29.0. That ranks the Orangemen No. 293 in the nation from 20-feet and out.

But hey, if Syracuse can get to the rim with ease, no big deal, right? History shows otherwise. In his weekly power rankings, Luke Winn dug into the numbers and found something startling: When teams shoot as poorly from three as Syracuse has thus far, they don't win in the NCAA tournament. In fact, they don't even make the NCAA tournament:
Before doing the research, I speculated that while this was a problem, I'd find at least a few teams that overcame a lack of three-point shooting ability to make decent NCAA tournament runs. Turns out ... that's not the case. In the past five years, do you know how many teams even made the NCAA tournament shooting sub-30 on threes?

None. None!

Winn assumed, for the sake of argument, that Syracuse would improve its long-range effort to, say, 31.5 percent. What about now? That's not much better; Winn found 15 teams (including seven from last year's tourney) that have made the NCAA tournament with sub-32 3-point field goal percentage marks since 2006. Only one of those teams, the 2010 Purdue Boilermakers, made it past the first weekend of the tournament.

Before Syracuse fans go into full-on freakout mode, there are reasons to believe Boeheim's team can improve their long-range accuracy going forward. For one, Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine averaged 39.5 percent from three combined last season. So far this year, Triche and Jardine are averaging around 26 percent from beyond the arc. Nine games is a much less meaningful sample size than 35; it's fair to expect a nice fat statistical correction for the guard duo any game now.

Failing that, Syracuse happens to have a very good three-point shooter -- Mookie Jones -- on its bench. Jones has seen his minutes dip this season, and he didn't see the floor once against Michigan State Tuesday night. But Jones shot almost 45 percent from three last season, and his effective field goal percentage (63.2) was higher than either Wes Johnson's (56.4) or Andy Rautins's (60.3). If Boeheim needs shooting, and he does, all he has to do is tell Jones to tear off the warmups and get in the game.

And, hey, you never know. Maybe Syracuse is that rare team that doesn't need to make threes to succeed. It's possible. But unless Syracuse is actively trying to set historical precedent, it would behoove the Orangemen to start making a few outside shots.