Rebounding won't hurt Syracuse

Fab Melo's shot blocking negates much of Syracuse's rebounding problem. Cal Sport Media/AP Images

The "Mendoza Line" is named for 1970s-era shortstop Mario Mendoza and is defined in baseball as having a batting average below .200. Mendoza was actually a career .215 hitter, but go fight colloquial City Hall. The expression lives, and it's useful.

In college hoops there are a couple clear Mendoza Lines that you may have seen me refer to from time to time. Definitely 3-point shooting that falls under 30 percent qualifies, whether that shooting comes from a team or an individual.

Another good example of a bright red line in hoops comes to us courtesy of defensive rebounding. The percentage of opponents' missed shots that your team pulls in should usually fall somewhere in the mid- to upper-60s. Anything over 70 percent is usually very good, although that number can be influenced by opponents' degree of aggressiveness in pursuing offensive rebounds.

Conversely, if the first digit of your team's defensive rebound percentage in conference play is a "5," that is just atrocious. This is the Mendoza Line for defensive boards: 60 percent. I usually see sub- or near-60 performances only from the occasional Northwestern, maybe a Providence or a Seton Hall from time to time, and very few others. (Ironically, the Pirates this season are above-average on the defensive glass.)

All of which is on point because this season's 29-1 Syracuse juggernaut has in fact been flirting with this particular Mendoza Line all season. At the moment the Orange have rebounded precisely 60.0 percent of their Big East opponents' missed shots. People like to say it's tough to rebound while playing zone defense, but Jim Boeheim's teams have played zone for years and this is the worst performance on the defensive boards that we've seen from one of his teams in recent memory.

My colleague Ken Pomeroy has already called attention to the Orange's "awful" work on the defensive glass, and in his piece, Ken came up with an incredible stat. Over the past decade, no NCAA tournament games have been won by a team that is this bad at defensive rebounding.

The good news for Cuse fans is that this amazing streak will come to an end in 2012. I'm going out on a limb and guessing that Boeheim's team will in fact win at least one NCAA tournament game. (I live dangerously.) Even so, Ken raises an excellent point. When a team is this off-the-charts terrible at something as basic and important as rebounding the other team's misses, how realistic is it to expect that team to mount a deep tournament run?