Syracuse Muscles Up



by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

We'll continue our college basketball conference SPOTLIGHT coverage in a moment with a look at the Colonial (five games tonight, one tomorrow night). First though, we wanted to reinforce something we've been talking about regarding the Syracuse Orangemen.

These guys are playing championship basketball!

Monday Night's comfortable victory over a very good Georgetown team was just the latest example. You regulars know we emphasize the inside game when analyzing college teams. What happens outside the arc is at the whims of randomness, because nobody can make all their treys on purpose even if they're getting open looks. What happens at the free throw line can be at the whims of the officials (though aggressive inside teams typically earn themselves extra trips). Basketball games are won and lost inside the arc.

*Winning teams create easy baskets for themselves on fast breaks, out of their offensive sets, or by recognizing mismatches and exploiting them.

*Winning teams DEFEND the goal with abandon, making it very difficult for opponents to cash in anything easily.

Several years ago we invented a stat that does a great job of measuring inside play. It's called PHANTOM SCORE. It's simply two-point scoring plus rebounds. You throw out three-pointers and one-pointers...then focus only on the stuff that matters most. Much of the time, the Phantom Score lines up closely with the real score. When it doesn't, the Phantom Score often has better predictive value because it tells you which team thrived at the most important stuff.

Syracuse is thriving at the most important stuff!

We've put together the Phantom Scores for Syracuse since conference play began. They made some early season statements with neutral site victories over North Carolina and Florida. Those wins don't mean so much now because North Carolina and Florida aren't as good as people expected. The Big East IS as tough as people expected, and Syracuse is just crushing the league inside (and it's an inside league!).

While grabbing the Phantom Scores, we noticed that Syracuse often holds an edge in made free throws as well, magnifying their scoreboard edge over opponents. We've noted those differentials in parenthesis. Here's what Syracuse has done since Big East play started...

Syracuse 68, Georgetown 48 (+15 FT's)
Syracuse 103, Marquette 53 (+4 FT's)
Syracuse 68, Notre Dame 67 (+13 FT's)
Syracuse 79, West Virginia 53 (+3 FT's)
Syracuse 73, Rutgers 59 (+12 FT's)
Syracuse 88, South Florida 75 (-5 FT's)
Syracuse 69, Memphis 48 (+15 FT's)
Syracuse 89, Pittsburgh 64 (-11 FT's)
Syracuse 96, Seton Hall 81 (+5 FT's)

Some notes:

*Memphis is a non-conference game, but followed the same pattern as the others. It was almost a dead-ringer for the Georgetown game you just watched on TV this past Monday Night (the one that inspired this article!).

*Run your finger down those scores. Syracuse won eight of nine Phantom Scores by double digits. In the one game that wasn't a Phantom Rout (on the road at Notre Dame), they won free throws by 13 points. You know you're attacking the basket well when you win free throws by THAT much on the road against a big name team.

*There are several BIG DANCE teams in that mix. So, we're not running numbers from Syracuse embarrassing patsies. Georgetown, Pittsburgh, and West Virginia will all be Dancing barring surprises, and Notre Dame has a good chance to go too. Memphis will likely be representing CUSA in the NCAA Tournament. Some of those teams listed will have impressive seeds too. Syracuse is playing very well against quality.

*Note the game vs. Pittsburgh was a straight up loss (the only blemish on the Syracuse card this season outside of the Lemoyne exhibition debacle back in November). Even though Syracuse won Phantom Score by 25, they were out shot 10-1 on three-pointers. That's the only way you can beat Syracuse, get hot from long range and hope they miss everything! Syracuse will typically lose three-pointers by some margin simply because they own the inside. Opponents HAVE to shoot outside, and will get back some of their deficit that way. It's typically not enough to win, or even hang close.

ESPN hadn't planned on hyping Syracuse this season. As always, the bulk of their resources were aimed at Duke and North Carolina down in the ACC. What was leftover was aimed at the resurgent Big Ten, which has a few games each week on the network. Sure, the Big East is a TV stalwart as well. The misleading result against LeMoyne tricked ESPN into looking elsewhere in the conference for their hype. That's kept the Orangemen off the radar of the public, and oddsmakers. As a result, Syracuse is 7-2 ATS its last nine games (those listed above), and 13-4 ATS for the season. One of the best five teams in basketball is being priced like it's 30th best.

If you're the type who likes betting against highly ranked teams, you may want to wait to see if Syracuse cools off before loading up against them. And, remember that 'inside' basketball doesn't necessarily 'cool off' either. You don't miss dunks and layups when you're earning them from fast breaks, sets, or mismatches. The Orange may have a few down spots when opponents get hot. They're not currently showing any signs of cooling off.

We're looking forward to seeing how Syracuse handles the toughest spots remaining in their grueling Big East slate...

February 10th: vs. Connecticut
February 14th: vs. Louisville
February 18th: at Georgetown
February 27th: vs. Villanova
March 6th: at Louisville

Nothing on the immediate horizon...but then an eight-day gauntlet around Valentine's that will really test their hearts!

Before we call it a day, let's run through the Colonial SPOTLIGHT as promised. We focus on two-point defense in these reports, the single best college hoop indicator stat in our view.

COLONIAL: 2-POINT DEFENSE (league record)
Drexel: 43% (6-3)
Old Dominion: 45% (8-1)
Northeastern: 45% (8-1)
Hofstra: 45% (2-7)
George Mason: 46% (8-1)
William & Mary: 46% (6-3)
James Madison: 46% (2-7)
VCU: 48% (5-4)
NC Wilmington: 48% (3-6)
Georgia State: 48% (3-6)
Delaware: 50% (2-7)
Towson: 51% (1-8)

The Colonial Conference is a league of anti-parity this year, with some very good teams and some very bad teams. You can see that everyone above has played nine games already in conference action. Only one team is 5-4, and nobody is 4-5. In leagues with parity, that's where the teams usually bunch up. Here, most everyone is either 6-3 and up, or 3-6 and down. Amazingly, there are THREE teams at 8-1!

As a result, defense is less of a 'tie-breaker' in this league than elsewhere. You've got a group of 'have's' in terms of raw talent, and a group of 'have-not's'. Hofstra plays decent defense, but is so horrible in everything else that they're 2-7 in the standings. Two-point defense can't overcome a lack of talent.

Note that Old Dominion has been ranked near the 30's nationally in some power ratings reports we've seen. That would get them an at-large bid come March should they maintain their pace. The team has a 61-57 road win at Georgetown on its resume, which is going to get some respect if ODU doesn't win the postseason Colonial tournament. The Conference that brought us George Mason's Cinderella run may be ready to make headlines again very soon!

Tonight's Colonial Schedule:
William & Mary at James Madison
NC Wilmington at Hofstra
Delaware at George Mason
Drexel at Northeastern
Towson at Virginia Commonwealth

Georgia State at Old Dominion

That wraps our Wednesday report. Back tomorrow to put two more conferences in the SPOTLIGHT (just in time for their busy Thursday cards). We'll focus on the NBA Friday to prepare you for that night's 12-game ticket (including Lakers/Philadelphia, Boston/Atlanta, Denver/Oklahoma City, Memphis/San Antonio, and Portland/Houston). Basketball will stay under the microscope until the Super Bowl arrives on the calendar next week. Be with us EVERY DAY so you don't miss a thing!

Our CASHLINE and BLUE RIBBON services continue to build profit pyramids. Call JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK at 1-800-323-4453 for more details. Game day selections and packages can be purchased here at the website with your credit card.

Games of interest for us tonight:
*Notre Dame/Villanova on ESPN
*Georgia/Florida in the SEC
*Texas A&M/Oklahoma State on ESPN2
*Texas Tech/Texas on ESPNU
*Florida State/Duke on ESPN
*BYU/New Mexico in the Mountain West (see yesterday's NOTEBOOK entry for SPOTLIGHT coverage of this improving league).

Wednesday Night's are like Saturdays because the schedules are so big. DON'T MAKE A MOVE TONIGHT UNTIL YOU HEAR WHAT JIM HURLEY HAS TO SAY!

This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by and For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.


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