Boeheim’s Absence

By Kurt Bullard

As March approaches, the bubble watch for a select few college basketball program heightens. One of these teams stands out as a peculiar case: Syracuse. The Orange are now predicted to make the NCAA Tournament according to ESPN Bracketology. Ranked 33rd by Ken Pomeroy as of Saturday night, a few bad losses to Georgetown and St. John’s sully an otherwise decent resume. However, those losses came without Jim Boeheim, who served a nine-game suspension in the middle of the season. The NCAA selection committee said that they will take the Boeheim suspension into consideration when determining the Orange’s fate, but estimating Boeheim’s true effect on the Orange is an interesting dilemma.

While the nine-game suspension was long in terms of the team’s schedule, nine games is not a lot of time in terms of making statistical inference. But, it’s perhaps worth looking* at Boeheim’s impact on the team, and how much it should influence the committee’s decision come March.

I’ll specifically look at the defense, as Boeheim’s signature mark on the Syracuse program is his patented 2-3 Zone that he has used in every game since November 3, 2009. In order to measure to his impact on the defense in-game, I ran a multiple regression with the response variable being the difference between the opponents’ average points per game and how much they scored against Syracuse (Points Against Syracuse – Points Per Game). I regressed that against two dummy variables—one that was for games Boeheim was suspended, as well as one for away games (in which I included neutral games).

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This model shows that for games where Boeheim was suspended, the Orange defense held opposing offenses to about 9 points less than their season average. However, with Boeheim back, their defense performed an average of 6.25 points better. This result is not statistically significant, but a lot of that lies in the fact that Boeheim was only gone for nine games, so it would be really difficult to find a result that is statistically significant. It is interesting to see that this impact is almost doubled by the impact of playing on the road, as the team performs an average of 11 points worse on defense on the road or in a neutral setting.

The same effect is not seen on the offensive end, though. Neither Boeheim’s presence or playing on the road seemed to have much of an effect on the offensive production. The adjusted R-Squared is actually negative, suggesting that neither of those variables explain any of the variance in Syracuse’s production.

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So when the selection committee looks at Syracuse this March, there’s a reason to discount the games where Jim Boeheim was gone. Even if the offense is largely the same without him, the 2-3 Zone will forever be Boeheim’s baby.

*Note: data for this article is from College Basketball at Sports-Reference for games before Saturday, February 13.

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