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Less Clang, More Bang: A Look at Texas Shooting

NCAA Basketball: Big 12 Conference Tournament-Texas vs Iowa State Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports

There are various topics among the Texas basketball fanbase which engendered varying opinions; some people want to see more pressing while others are fine with the current style, some people want to see a faster pace while others are fine to..wait, nobody’s happy with this pace, scratch that one. The one topic that generates near-unanimous condemnation is the three-point shooting ability of the Texas offense. There’s plenty of merit to that complaint, as in the three years under Shaka Smart’s tutelage the offense has 202nd, 345th, and 316th in three-point shooting percentage nationally. Those numbers are, uhh, not great, and further they handicap an offense that is otherwise more than effective enough to compete in the Big 12. The emergence of a couple of credible outside threats could catapult this team’s offensive efficiency to some pretty rarified (for Texas) air; consider that even with the anemic outside shooting, Texas was still in the top quarter (89th out of 351) of D-I in adjusted offensive efficiency last season.

If Texas can get the outside shooting up to average D-I levels, the results on the court will be significant. How significant? Well, let’s take the D-I average three-point shooting team last season: Bucknell. They tied with Nicholls State for 175th in D-I in three-point shooting percentage last year, but I’m using Bucknell because you can’t convince me there’s a state named Nicholls or that they have a university. I live in America, sir, and I know Nicholls State is fake news. Bucknell made 34.82% of their threes last year on 804 attempts, whereas Texas made 31.98% of their threes on 766 attempts. If you project Texas making 34.82% of their threes, the number of makes last year goes from 245 to 266.7. You think Texas might have liked to have 21 threes to sprinkle through a year with eight overtime games? There’s a plausible case to be made that Texas is a 23-24 win team last year with this improvement. Last year’s Texas team making an average percentage of threes probably spends the last two months of the season discussing which seed they get in March Madness rather than featuring Joe Lunardi’s gigantic head floating across the chyron with a continuously updating percentage of Texas’ tournament fate like the world’s nerdiest stock market this side of whatever blockchain forum Chilton is on right now. Also, my liquor bill would be lower. Not much lower, but some. OK it would be the same, but I’d have enjoyed the liquor rather than sublimating my anxiety. OK I still enjoyed it. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m putting the T back in Tequila.

The logical question here is if this sort of improvement is possible, given how the team shot last year. My answer is yes, given - wait for it - how the team shot last year. Wait, what? You heard me. During conference play, Texas shot 33.9% from three on 407 attempts, which is a stone’s throw away from the 34.8% they’re aiming for. If you pull out Mohamed Bamba’s 9-29 in conference play, Texas is up to 34.1% from three. To put this another way, simply by having the returning players shoot the same percentages they shot in the last half of the season last year, they’re already most of the way to the desired number. (As an aside, removing Jacob Young from the numbers doesn’t alter the percentages much as he shot 34.3% in Big 12 games.)

There are five players likely to take the bulk of the shots outside the arc next season: Dylan Osetkowski, Kerwin Roach II, Andrew Jones, Matt Coleman, and Jase Febres. That’s two seniors, a junior, and a pair of sophomores. When you consider that college shooters usually improve as they get older, it’s not hard to envision that leap to a team who shoots credibly from deep.

Let’s take a full-season stat line I think is at least plausible:

3P% Estimates

Player 2017-2018 3P% 2018-2019 3P% 3P% Increase
Player 2017-2018 3P% 2018-2019 3P% 3P% Increase
Dylan Osetkowski 42-146 (28.8%) 51-150 (34%) 5.20%
Kerwin Roach II 44-121 (36.4%) 50-130 (38.5%) 3.10%
Andrew Jones 19-41 (46.3%) 41-90 (45%) -1.30%
Matt Coleman 28-98 (28.6%) 33-100 (33%) 4.40%
Jase Febres 28-93 (30.1%) 35-100 (35%) 4.90%
Total 161-499 (32.26%) 210-570 (36.84%) 4.58%

I may be overly optimistic, but I also look at the Big 12 shooting numbers and see the following percentages: Osetkowski 32.9%, Roach 37.1%. Those two nudging their overall numbers up to 34% & 38.5% respectively seem plausible to me, and the rest of the projections are either about a guy with a NBA three or a pair of freshmen making fairly normal progressions as sophomores. Here’s a few recent points of reference from Texas the last few seasons.

FR to SO Shooting Improvement

Player Freshman 3P% Sophomore 3P% 3P% Increase
Player Freshman 3P% Sophomore 3P% 3P% Increase
Jacob Young 25-110 (22.7%) 30-93 (32.3%) 9.60%
Tevin Mack 34-114 (29.8%) 34-87 (39.1%) 9.30%
Javan Felix 12-47 (25.5%) 61-178 (34.3%) 8.80%
Demarcus Holland 8-46 (17.4%) 14-48 (29.2%) 11.80%

It’s really unfortunate Demarcus Holland didn’t grow hands until his sophomore season, though you would think that would get mentioned in his recruiting profile. No wonder Texas lost to Chaminade that year, Holland was trying to make threes via header. Any way, the point still remains that they all (even Demarcus!) improved quite a bit from freshman to sophomore seasons. I’m not bold enough to predict Febres or Coleman pushes their make rate up nearly ten points, however a more modest 4-ish percent increase seems very feasible. I might be a bit low on the number of makes as Texas is likely to push faster than their glacial pace of the previous year thanks to the increased depth on the roster, but the larger point of the percentages still stands.

(I should take a moment to explain my view of Andrew Jones’ usage is hedging a bit based upon my guess of his usage level over the course of a season. We don’t know if he’ll play 5 minutes per game out of the gate or 15; I imagine the fat part of the bell curve involves him playing limited minutes early in the season and increasing his minutes over the season as he works his way back into shape. He might shoot 50 threes, he might shoot 200; it’s still way too early to say.)

One thing you’ll notice about the table for the ‘18-’19 team: zero freshmen. That’s not a knock on the incoming class so much as a consequence of the roster finally starting to get enough experience that the freshmen with some shooting ability (primarily Kamaka Hepa & Courtney Ramey) and transfer Eli Long can contribute in more organic ways than Texas has had to rely upon the previous two seasons. If any or all of the three shoot the ball well from deep, it will be an added bonus rather than a requirement for the offense to function.

Let’s come full circle and add in the reserves to the equation. Last season the 5 players mentioned above (Osetkowski, Jones, Roach, Coleman, & Febres) accounted for 65% of the three-point shots on the team. If you consider Andrew Jones playing the majority of the season and subtract any centers taking threes (please, Jericho, don’t take another three until your free throw percentage is better than a coin flip) it’s reasonable to believe these five will take at least 70% of the shots behind the arc. If the other eight players take the remaining 30%, that’s about 244 three-point attempts on the season. I’m going to be conservative here and assume there’s effectively zero improvement from last season, when the remaining players shot 31.5% combined. Between the loss of Eric WILD CARD Davis, Jr. and Jacob WHAT’S A CONSCIENCE Young, & the additions of Hepa, Ramey, Long, Cunningham, Liddell, there is a significant amount of variability in this part of the projection. If the Unknowable Eight stay flat as a group, that means they’re likely to hit 77 or so of those 244 attempts. What does that mean for the team as a whole?

Team Shooting Estimate

Players 3-Point Makes 3-Point Attempts 3-Point %
Players 3-Point Makes 3-Point Attempts 3-Point %
DO + Jones + Roach + Coleman + Febres 210 570 36.84%
The Rest 77 244 31.56%
Total 287 814 35.26%

35.3% from three last season would have put Texas into the 150s nationally, in the neighborhood of programs like Michigan, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Ohio State, and Rhode Island. I think we would all be pretty happy with a team that shoots the three on par with any John Beilein squad, especially one that made the title game thanks to *checks notes* excellent two-point shooting. Dammit. Still, the point remains that the delta between last year’s Longhorns shooting and a solid three-point threat may not be as large as you think. We will see soon enough if they can take the next step and become a team opponents have to guard more than 20 feet from the rim.