Saturday, July 19, 2008

The 3 Point Line, Luke Winn and the Big East, Pt 3

In his June 16, 2008 article, "How the new three-point line will affect the game", Luke Winn of Sports Illustrated made (successfully in my opinion...) one of the few serious attempts to use quantitative analysis to predict the effect of moving the 3 point line back one foot. Looking exclusively at the 2008 NCAA field, Winn suggested a number of particular teams would be helped or harmed by the change. Restating his points:

1. Mid-majors Will be Hit the Hardest -- they tend to rely more on the 3 point shot as a equalizer against the (BCS?) high-majors who have larger, more athletic front court players. In a 1 - 2 possession game this can be crucial.
2. The Two Main National Title Contenders are Insulated -- next year's early favorites, North Carolina and Connecticut have offenses that don't rely much on points from the 3 point line.
3. There's Now More Space For Low-Percentage Two-Point Attempts -- and Defenses That Force the Most of These Will Thrive -- this one applies directly to both the regular and post season.
4. Marginal Shooters Won't Command Much Respect -- Winn referred to teams, but this could just as well apply to individual shooters.

I decided to crunch some Big East conference games data from last season to see, using Winn's points as a guide, who might be harmed or helped by the change. Winn's first three points were addressed in earlier posts, Part 1 and Part 2. I want to look at his last point now...

Marginal Shooters Won't Command Much Respect
Winn refers to both individuals and teams. If an individual (or his team for that matter...) can't hit consistently from 19-9, why would anyone think they can hit consistently from 20-9? Winn suggests that for wings with poor 3FGM%, this season's green light may be go to yellow (or red) with the greater distance. And teams that rely on hitting shots from the outside, as the counter to double teams and help on penetration may suffer with the added distance. Winn was not impressed with Pitt's numbers at all, citing the Panthers specifically he wrote...

...But the most interesting case study [from among the 2008 NCAA Tournament teams...] will be at Pittsburgh, which was seventh-worst on that list. Last season, defenses were kept honest by the shooting of junior Sam Young (38.3 percent, 44 threes) and seniors Ronald Ramon (37.2 percent, 67 threes) and Keith Benjamin (37.0 percent, 51 threes). The Panthers' overall percentage was dragged down by the abysmal aim of point guard Levance Fields (27.7 percent, 28 threes) and Gilbert Brown (24.4 percent, 19 threes) -- both of whom will likely be in the starting lineup now that Ramon and Benjamin are gone.

If defenses sag down against Fields' penetration, and use help to double super-sophomore DeJuan Blair in the post, can Pitt make them pay? The Panthers are finding their way into plenty of preseason top 10s, but they won't be a contender without being able to pose some semblance of a threat from beyond 20-9.
-- Luke Winn, Sports Illustrated, 6/16/08

Who else in the Big East is vulnerable? Sorting teams by 3 point Pct. made (lowest to highest) produces this list...

3FGFGM Pct.3 FG Att.
South Florida1629.347.842.230.313
St. John's1233.041.939.329.514
Seton Hall735.344.441.235.85
De Paul535.546.042.334.86
West Virginia237.946.843.833.39
Notre Dame140.547.445.133.310

The first thing I noticed was that Pittsburgh did a better job of hitting 3s in Big East conference games than they did overall. At 35.0% the Panthers would not have made Luke Winn's 10 Worst List. While I agree with Winn's premise (poor 3FGM% teams will struggle...), I wonder if Pittsburgh is really the poster child for inconsistent 3 point shooting teams who can expect their post players to be double teamed with impunity. True, they lose Keith Benjamin and Ron Ramon, but they return the extremely versatile Sam Young. Gilbert Brown did struggle -- as a freshman. As a sophomore he will get better, or expect to yeild time to some combination of incoming guards Travon Woodall, another point guard (Fields moves back over to the #2 where he played very effectively when Carl Krauser manned the point), Ashton Gibbs, a 6-2 combo guard out of Seton Hall Prep and Jermaine Dixon, a transfer from Tallahassee Community College. And Mike Cook, an East Carolina transfer who was injured in the eleventh game last season, has filed an appeal for a fifth year of eligibility. If his appeal is granted the Panther will have a wing who, though only an occasional 3 point shooter, managed to hit 42.1% of them in Big East play in 2006-07. The Hoyas of Georgetown seem, based on Big East data, to be a much better fit. The Hoyas ranked #1 for taking 3s, but only #11 for hitting them (see yellow highlight). The differential is a killer, especially when you realize they lose their principle inside threat, Roy Hibbert, along with 2 year veteran Vernon Macklin, while simultaneously losing their best outside shooter, Jon Wallace (40.0% in conference games -- good by anyone's estimate). The graduations of Tyler Crawford, Pat Ewing, Roy Hibbert and Jon Wallace, combined with the transfer of Jeremiah Rivers, took 40.5% of the Hoya's 3s, hitting (a higher than average) 36.7% of them.

South Florida at the top? No surprise there, as I touched on the Bulls' offensive and defensive difficulties earlier. Virtually all of the low percentage wings (Solomon Bozeman, Orane Chin, Aaron Holmes, Amu Saaka...) exited en masse at the end of the season, leaving only marginally more proficient rising senior wing Jesus Verdejo (33.3%) and co-ROY Dominique Jones (33.3%) to pick up even more offensive responsibility as incoming freshmen Dwan McMillan, Eladio Espinosa and Gaby Belardo learn Coach Stan Heath's system. Things might be more difficult without big Kentrell Gransberry providing a low post target when defenses collapse around the penetrator. But Gus Gilcrest, a center who started his migration at Virginia Tech (then stopped for a year at Maryland) has an appeal pending before the NCAA over his mandated one year wait period. If he does not play next season there is Teeng Akol, another well regarded low post recruit coming into Tampa. Syracuse is something of a "chicken or egg" team. Given the Orange are ranked #15 in both percentage of 3s taken and percentage of 3s hit, one wonders if they tried but stopped, or resorted to attempting 3s only in exigent circumstances. Of their Iron Man Seven rotation, only pg Jonny Flynn (32.5%) and Donte Greene (28.8%) attempted more than 15 3s. Andy Rautins and Eric Devendorf will be back next season. Neither is shy about hoisting 3s in appropriate circumstances. So the question is who will sit while one (or both) play?

Georgetown is not the only team facing "Winn's Dilemna", as Villanova too relies on the 3 offensively (ranked #3), while not converting them efficiently (ranked #14). With the graduations of Curt Sumpter and wing guard Mike Nardi, forwards Dante Cunningham & Antonio Pena, along with reconditioned center Casiem Drummond, were able to expand their roles within the offense, thus actually reducing (slightly) the ratio of 3s to 2s. But the 'Cats were still high relative to the rest of the conference. And the reduction in frequency also came with a reduction in accuracy. Of the five most frequent 3 point shooters (3FGAs >40), only Malcolm Grant hit at a decent rate (38.1% -- Grant who since transferred to Miami of Florida however, could not hit anything inside the 3 point line, going a dismal 25.9% on 2FGAs...). The others, Scottie Reynolds, Corey Stokes, Corey Fisher and Dwayne Anderson shot hit between 32% & 33% of their attempts in conference games. Stokes, who the staff stayed with throughout the season, managed to begin hitting for more accuracy about halfway through February, and continued to produce more consistently than he had through the first part of the season. Reynolds also showed more consistency (and accuracy) at the end of the season. Scottie went on a 5 game run, beginning with the Providence game that improved his season-long PPWS by about 3% through the end of the season. The good news for the Nova Nation is that Fisher and Stokes were freshmen, going into next season they will have a better idea of what is expected in a high-major program. For Reynolds and Stokes the good news is they were "trending up" for accuracy and consistency at the end of the season. Hopefully they will carry that into next season.

Notre Dame seems to be a polar opposite. Taking a middling (ranked #10) 33.3% of their field goal attempts as 3s (great to have a low post threat like Harangody isn't it?), yet hitting a conference high 40.?% suggests the Irish will be able to stretch defenses in a not very pleasant way...for the defense anyway. Those teams that find they have to resort to a double team (or more) to shut down, or at least slow, Luke Harangody (Zach Hillesland, Ryan Ayers, Luke Zeller and any other forward/centers on the Irish roster...) will no doubt face an arial bombardment as McAlarney, Jackson, Jon Peoples and Ryan Ayers (yes! that Ryan Ayers) cut loose from the outside.

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