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A Look at Xavier's Three-point Offense

Is three-point shooting the problem when Xavier's offensive goes south? If so, who is responsible?

"You guys really need to make something right now."
"You guys really need to make something right now."
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

As he looked out over the carnage on the stat sheet from last night's loss to Seton Hall, Coach Mack made an interesting observation. I don't have his exact wording in front of me, but he commented at moderate length about how the effectiveness of Seton Hall's zone defense was due at least in part to Xavier's deplorable 3-22 showing from behind the arc. Because they didn't have to check shooters, the Pirates were able to clog passing lanes, congest the post, and establish inside rebounding position. They never strayed away from the bucket, and Xavier never forced them to.

This, of course, set me on a search for some answers regarding Xavier's three-point shooting and their chances of winning. For the purposes of this study, I threw out the results of wins over teams with a KenPom rating worse than DePaul's; Xavier's only strategy necessary to winning those games (except against USC) was "show up." I further split results into those against teams with a KenPom rating of 80 or above (convenient in that Seton Hall is currently 80th in the KenPom ratings) and those below that line. When I speak of good/bad wins/losses, that's where the demarcation occurs. That will come into play later, though.

(NB: all of the stats used in this study exclude numbers posted in the games against Gardner Webb, Morehead State, Miami (OH), Abilene Christian, Bowling Green, and Evansville.)

The first thing that jumped out at me from the numbers was the sheer volume of attempts. In losses, Xavier has averaged 17.7 three-point attempts per game. In wins, it is 11.73. While there is some selection bias at play there (e.g., X shoots more threes when chasing the game), it also demonstrates that Xavier tends to be less successful in general when they rely on the three. Interestingly enough, Xavier shoots about 19-37 from inside the arc (51.6%) and about 19-38 (49.3%) from there in losses. The 5.8% drop in Xavier's FG% between wins and losses is almost entirely attributable to three-point shooting.

Only twice in losses has Xavier had an above average three-point shooting night (as measured by more makes than they average while hitting at least their average in percentage). Those games were @Creighton and @Villanova. Creighton simple outscored Xavier, and Nova held them to 13-35 (37.1%) from inside the arc, which is awful. Conversely, X has had above average shooting nights in 4 of their 8 good wins, and 3 of the other good wins (St. John's, Providence, and @St. John's) can be attributed to efforts on the defensive end. The Tennessee win in November was the last time Xavier's offense took them to a good win without getting an above-average three-point shooting performance.

I also wanted to see if there was a difference between each player's output in wins versus losses. I started on the premise that we are primarily expecting threes to come from JMart, Dee, Myles, and James Farr. Threes from anyone else are pretty much gravy; but those four players are our guys from behind the arc. I looked at each player and broke down his production in losses, wins, and just good wins. What I found surprised me.

Justin Martin is Steady Eddie from behind the arc. He averages 1.7-4.6 (37%) in losses, 1.6-4.0 (40%) in wins, and 1.7-4.6 (38%) in good wins. No matter what the outcome of the game ends up being, JMart's three-point production changes about as much as his facial expression. The player on Xavier least associated with consistency has been far and away the most consistent three-point threat on the team.

The other three guys track more in line with the team's fortunes. Dee goes from 0.7-3.3 (21%) in losses to 1.5-3.2 (49%) in wins and 1.3-2.9 (45%) in good wins. The more Myles shoots, the less Xavier wins; he is 1.6-5.3 (30%) in losses versus 0.6-1.9 (33%) in wins and 0.6-2.0 (31%) in good wins. James Farr is also a lot better in wins - 0.6-1.5 (43%) - and good wins - 0.6-1.2 (50%) and his 0.6-2.3 (26%) in losses. On the whole, those three shoot 2.9-10.9 (27%) in losses, 2.9-6.9 (43%) in wins, and 2.5-6.0 (41%) in good wins.

That's a pile of numbers that tell you Xavier wins more when they shoot better, which is maybe not groundbreaking. With that said, and understanding that correlation does not indicate causation, I want to try to tease a few conclusions out of the data:

  • Xavier's three-point shooting is predicated on the defense having to work inside the arc. Of the 59 threes Farr and Myles Davis have hit, 57 of them have come off of assists. JMart has 38 assisted threes on his total of 41 makes. Only Dee Davis gets an above average number of his treys without an assist. On the year, 87.7% of Xavier's threes have been assisted; the national average is 84.9%. If teams aren't having to double inside - either because they are handling the post and penetration without help or because they know Xavier needs three - the Muskies don't have players who can get their own shots from behind the arc. Shooters are forced to back up to get catch-and-shoot looks, attempts rise, and efficiency falls.
  • Myles Davis is Coach Mack's last roll of the dice. Despite a strong correlation between Myles's attempts and Xavier losing, I don't think you can tie the two into a package and lay it at his feet. When things get ugly, Coach Mack sends Myles in there to try to gun Xavier back into the games. Opponents know what he's there for, which makes it hard for him to get clean looks at the basket. Yeah, he has bad numbers in losses, but the losses cause the bad numbers, not vice versa.
  • Dee Davis is the preferred second shooter. While Myles Davis and James Farr are shooting specialists, Dee Davis is primarily a ball distributor who can get his open looks while offering something else to the team if he's covered up. Going forward, Dee Davis's performance from behind the arc may be as strong a bellwether as any of the larger fortunes of the team.

Of course, everything may change if Stainbrook is down for an extended period.