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When does three point shooting become a concern?

Winning without knocking down threes isn’t easy, but there are historical precedents that suggest it can be done.

NCAA Basketball: Siena at Xavier
The statistics would tell us this shot did not go in.
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Right now your team and mine, the Xavier Musketeers, are shooting 23.8% behind the arc. That is remarkably poor. It is, in fact, unsustainably bad. In 2019 13-19 Jackson State possessors of one of the worst offenses in the nation, came dead last with a 27.9% three point percentage last season. Xavier isn’t going to do that, and they really aren’t likely to come close.

So historical futility isn’t likely, but that doesn’t mean that the Musketeers shooting isn’t an issue. Right now Xavier has the 16th most efficient offense in the nation. X doesn’t turn it over, dominates inside, and plays to its strengths. What they don’t do is shoot the ball well at all. Xavier is 143rd in the nation at EFG% at 49.6%. From the line they shoot 63.6% (220th), behind the arc they shoot the aforementioned 23.8% (274th), and only from inside the arc do they shoot well at 56.8% (65th).

The reason that Xavier is still able to score efficiently, aside from a 15% turnover rate, is that they aren’t shooting from outside all that much. The Musketeers only take 34.1% of their shots from deep, 202nd in the nation. That has carried them through wins over Jacksonville and Siena with very little trouble. Neither of those teams has someone that can match Naji Marshall for athleticism, Tyrique Jones for strength in the post, or Xavier for simple talent.

The next opponent, Missouri, doesn’t fit that bill. The Tigers sport the 20th best defense in the league based largely on their ability to close off the middle. Teams are shooting a shocking 36.5% inside the arc against Missouri this year. Outside the arc, teams are making 24.4% of their shots. Missouri’s defense is vicious, and Xavier’s offense is going to have to be multi-faceted to beat them.

Aside from Missouri, though, is the question of just how far Xavier can go shooting the ball the way they are. Last season the worst three point shooting team in the tournament was Saint Louis at 30.4%. Not at all shockingly, they scored .78 points per possession and lost by 14 in their first round game. Duke was marginally better at 30.8% and secured a one seed. That clearly, though, is not the way to sustained success.

If shooting 30% is not the way forward and Xavier is currently shooting below 24%, shouldn’t alarm bells be ringing? No. Paul Scruggs is an excellent shooter and has only taken seven shots. Naji Marshall can be a passable shooter and figures to improve on 9.1%. Bryce Moore can shoot, Dah Bishop looks like a competent outside threat, and Kyky Tandy has yet to hoist a college shot. While the Musketeers aren’t shooting well now, they aren’t going to finish the season shooting this badly.

So where does Xavier need to get to be effective? Tyrique Jones is a monster that is going to take some stopping inside. Zach Freemantle is showing excellent signs of being an inside threat in his own right. The Musketeers continuing to shoot 56% inside the arc, especially once Jason Carter recovers, isn’t outside the realm of possibility. Anywhere from 54.8% up would put them in the top 30 in the nation. (Last year Xavier finished 31st).

Shoot that well inside the arc, and suddenly outside shooting isn’t as vital. In the top 30 of two point shooting in 2019 lurk two one seeds and a two seed. In 2018, it’s three one seeds, a two, and a three. In 2017 it’s three one seeds and three three seeds. None of those teams, with the exception of the statistical freak that is Villanova, were in the top 100 of 3PA/FGA percentage. Elite interior shooting doesn’t nullify the need to make some three pointers, but it can keep a mediocre outside shooting team at the very top of the game.

Duke shot 30.8% from deep last season. That is the outlier even among the teams mentioned above. Nova in 2017 shot 36%, Duke in 2018 shot 37%, Arizona in 2015 shot 36%, and North Carolina in 2016 shot 32.7%. If Xavier commits to forcing the ball inside, continues to shoot at an elite rate, and doesn’t fall in love with jumpers, maybe the answer is that three point shooting never really becomes a big concern.