Although there have already been some giant upheavals, it’s still early in Big East conference play. As the matchups heat up and the body blows add up, here are some numbers you need to know:
7.06% | The percentage of an opponent’s offensive possessions on which Louisville’s Russ Smith records a steal. Nation-wide, only Briante Weber from Virigina Commonwealth steals the ball more often. Rick Pitino and his pressure defense always create chaos, but this year they’ve been exceptionally disruptive; thanks in large part to Smith, the Cardinals are turning opponents over on 25.6% of their possessions, the 14th best mark in the nation. That’s pushed them to an Adjusted Defensive Rating of 84.6, which stands for 5th in the country. Also appearing on the list of the nation’s top ten individual thieves are Dion Waiters of Syracuse, Fuquan Edwin of Seton Hall and Anthony Collins of South Florida. It is not a good year to be bringing the ball up the court in the Big East.
15.59% | This is Fab Melo’s blk%, or the percentage of an opponent’s two point field goal attempts he blocks. It’s the 2nd highest in the nation, higher even than that of highly touted Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis. Melo’s defensive presence on the interior has helped Syracuse post some of their best defensive numbers ever. Ken Pomeroy has them ranked as the 9th best defense in the country and they’re holding opponents to just 42.0% on two-pointers. Those are scary credentials to be bringing into the heart of their conference schedule.
- 9.79 | This is how many fewer points per 100 possessions the Pitt Panthers are averaging without Tray Woodall. If you disregard the 18 ineffectual minutes he played last week against Notre Dame before re-aggravating his injury, the number becomes
Make no mistake, Syracuse is a serious national championship contender. Admittedly, they spent the first few weeks of the season crashing at a flophouse in Cupcake City, shacking up with the likes of Colgate, Fordham and Eastern Michigan. But they’ve also beaten Virginia Tech, Stanford and Florida, who are a combined 18-6 to start the season. The Orange are now 8-0 and, after Friday’s game against Florida, already have a win over a top-10 team to hang their hats on.
This early season dominance has been powered mostly with defensive swarm and smarm. By Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, Syracuse had the 11th stingiest defense in the country entering Monday night’s action. Credit should be graciously heaped on both the players and system. Jim Boeheim brought the 2-3 zone to Syracuse in the late Mesozoic era, and you wouldn’t still be reading this if you hadn’t seen it a time or two. The heart of that defense, as with most zones, is forcing action to the perimeter. Nothing different this year as 37.9% of their opponents’ scoring has come from beyond the three-point line, the 11th highest mark in the nation. But they’ve staunchly defended the interior, not just goaded teams away from the basket. They have the 4th best Blk% in the country and have held opponents to just 46.4% shooting on shots at the rim.
I know, I know, that rented flat in Cupcake City is inflating these stats, but Syracuse has made some dramatic improvements. Much of this progress can be tracked back to sophomore Fab Melo. Last season, Melo came in with sky-high expectations as a McDonald’s All-American and the 2nd ranked center in his high school class, according to Rivals.com. To say he underwhelmed as a freshman is like saying Steven Wright can keep a straight face. Melo’s struggles