Last night, Xavier lost to Villanova by 6. Aside from Kyky Tandy drilling one during desperation time, the Muskies accumulated their points entirely without the help of the three-point basket. A team that usually shoots 34.2% of its shots from behind the arc took just 18.9% of them from deep.
I think that show of restraint was actually a fatal profligacy.
Xavier scored 52 points off of their 47 two-point attempts last night, making each two-point field goal attempts worth 1.1 points, and that on a night when their finishing around the rim was poor. In addition, they took 11 three-point shots and scored just 3 points off of them, for .27 points per attempt.
Every three-point attempt Xavier took last night, in effect, cost them .83 points. Simply converting those 11 three-point attempts into two-point attempts would have cost Xavier 3 points from their one make but then paid them 12 points for the expected yield of 11 two-point shots.
In a game they lost by 6, Xavier gave up 9 points by shooting threes instead of twos. At least, they did mathematically.
I understand the real world is more complex that this math problem. Only shooting twos would have likely given Xavier more chances to get fouled, but it also would have given Brian O'Connell more chances to call charges, which is what gets him out of bed in the morning. Maybe the effort of working for a two instead of taking a three leads to another turnover here or there. Maybe the two ends up being a long jumper, though X was 10-20 on shots ESPN's game log called two-point jumpers last night.
On the year, Xavier is a good two-point shooting team and a bad three-point shooting team. Just by percentages, every two-point attempt they take is worth 1.04 points, and every three they fire up is worth .88 points. The difference of .16 points per shot isn't huge, but Xavier shoots about 60 times a game, and about 20 of those are threes. The three points a game they leave behind the arc aren't massive by themselves, but they don't account for the various ancillary benefits of getting the ball inside. Both those benefits and those three points would have been nice to have last night.
Or against Florida.
Or against Wake.
The reality is that Xavier will keep shooting threes, and they probably have to in order to do what they want to on offense. Last night's shot selection was actually exactly what Xavier should be doing, as their discipline in not settling for threes ran until the math just didn't work on twos anymore. They had to gamble by going away from their strengths because of the hole they dug early.
Besides, if they convert at their usual 30% clip, that game is tied in the final minute.
This team is going to live and die on its defense. It cannot afford to give away points, even a fraction at a time, with bad shot selection. Last night, they didn't. If the execution inside the arc is better, we're praising their discipline in eschewing what lies beyond it. That same discipline will need to be on full display for the rest of the season.