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December 13, 2010, 01:01 AM ET
Syracuse is doomed. Like Duke last year.

by John Gasaway

Maybe “doomed” is a bit strong. In a sport where you score by putting the ball in the basket, putting the ball in the basket’s pretty important – certainly more important than turnovers, rebounds, or getting to the line.

Which brings me to the always excellent Luke Winn and the widespread concern he’s triggered with regard to the poor three-point shooting displayed by 10-0 Syracuse thus far this season. Luke’s right, of course. As great as the Orange zone defense may be, the prospects for Jim Boeheim’s team going forward will be brighter if they can do better than their current 259th in the country from beyond the arc. But I was struck by the timing of this concern for the ‘Cuse, given the identity of our defending national champion.

That would be Duke. Despite my own best efforts and indeed those of my colleague Ken Pomeroy in this year’s College Basketball Prospectus book, I still have the nagging feeling that no one truly understands just how incredible it was that the Blue Devils could win a national title while shooting so miserably from inside the arc last year. Then it occurred to me that Luke may have at last broken this perceptual gridlock, albeit unwittingly. The best way to appreciate what Mike Krzyzewski pulled off last year could well be to compare Duke’s two-point apples to Syracuse’s three-point oranges.

I’m going to veer from Luke ever so slightly, however, and use FG percentages from conference games only. I like conference play. It balances “home” and “road” and the schedule is dictated to you, not chosen by you. Of course we don’t have conference shooting stats yet for Syracuse 2010-11, but happily we do have them for 292 other major-conference teams over the past four seasons. For the sake of simplicity let’s say that the ’Cuse ends up making a measly 30.9 percent of their threes in Big East play, just as they’ve done in their games to date. How bad is that?

Pretty dang bad. You probably don’t need me to tell you that, but let’s quantify the bad shooting here. The average major-conference team will make 34.7 percent of its threes in league play, putting Syracuse’s 30.9 percent three-point shooting a robust 1.2 standard deviations on the wrong side of the mean. As I said, pretty dang bad.

Now for gridlock-breaking part. Duke’s two-point shooting last year? The Blue Devils made just 45 percent of their attempts inside the arc in ACC play. The average major-conference team, conversely, makes those shots at a 48.5 percent clip, putting Duke a full 1.1 standard deviations to the dark side of normal. Nevertheless, Coach K’s team won it all, thanks to good three-point shooting, the beastly offensive rebounding of Brian Zoubek, and, not least, an excellent D.

None of which makes Syracuse a shoo-in for the Final Four next April. But the 2010 national champion Duke Blue Devils were nothing if not a beacon of hope for teams that suck at one discrete thing.

Email: johngasaway@basketballprospectus.com; Twitter: @JohnGasaway   

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