Texas Longhorns Basketball: Inside the Numbers, Week 16

Texas struggled at turning layups into points in their win against Texas Tech.

It is a good thing to win. Even when that win is an ugly one against a team having a really difficult year. The Texas Longhorns got a win on the road against Texas Tech in a game that featured a lot of missed shots and bad offense by both teams.

But, while the quality of play was disappointing, wins are what matter right now. Losing to Texas Tech would have been a disaster. A week from now everyone will have forgotten about the game against Texas Tech, and will be gearing up for the Big 12 tournament. There is only one week left to play in the regular season. Tonight, Texas has a very winnable match-up against the Oklahoma Sooners, before their final regular season contest this Saturday in Lawrence.

This week in Inside the Numbers, I look back at the Texas Tech game and talk about some of the things I have learned by studying college basketball play-by-play data.

The Week In Review

Background information on the statistics is posted here and here.

TEXAS vs TEXAS TECH

CATEGORY

TEXAS

TECH

DIFFERENCE

FGA

56

53

3

FTA

30

29

1

FGA + 0.475 x FTA

70.3

66.8

3.5

Off Rebs

11

9

2

TOs

17

20

-3

ORB - TO

-6

-11

5

TS%

0.505

0.502

0.004

ORB%

30%

28%

TO%

22%

26%

Points/100 poss

93

86

You don't need advanced statistics to recognize that both teams struggled significantly on offense. With only 93 points per 100 possessions, this was Texas' worst offensive performance in about a month. Back on January 24, Texas only managed 92 points per 100 possessions in their win over Iowa State. On the season, Texas is averaging 109.5 points / 100 possessions, and this sort of poor offensive showing has been quite unusual.

Both teams struggled in much the same way. The true shooting percentages for each team were nearly identical (and low). Both teams seriously struggled on shots from the floor. Texas had an effective field goal percentage of 0.429, while Tech had an effective field goal percentage of 0.434. There were a lot of turnovers. Texas Tech performed in their typical manner, turning the ball over in more than one quarter of their possessions. Texas turned the ball over in "only" 22% of their possessions. This is not a good number, but Texas' ability to win the turnover battle was critical in scraping out this win.

Texas' struggles from the field in this game really boiled down to a difficulty in hitting three point shots and a lower than normal shooting percentage on shots at the rim. On the season, Texas hits 34% of their attempts from three point range. In this game, Texas went 4 of 16 on three point attempts (25%). Texas actually did a really good job of getting shot attempts at the rim, taking 43% of their field goal attempts at the rim (they average 34% percent of their attempts at the rim this season). This didn't translate into as high of a field goal percentage as it should of, as they struggled to convert these shots. Texas made only 54% of their attempts at the rim, which is substantially lower than their season average of 63%. This lower shooting percentage just about cancels out the positive effects of the extra shots Texas took at the rim. Sheldon McClellan missed his lone attempt at the rim, Myck Kabongo was 2 of 5 on shots at the rim and Jonathan Holmes went 1 for 3 on attempts at the rim. Converting on a few more of these attempts would have given Texas a bit more of a cushion.

One thing that Texas Tech did fairly well defensively was keeping the Longhorns off of the offensive glass. While defensive rebounding is typically a struggle for Texas, offensive rebounding has been one of the team's strengths. On the season, Texas is pulling down 38.5% of the available offensive rebounds, which is good for #16 in NCAA Division I ($). Offensive rebounding is a large part of why Texas has a top 20 offense, according to kenpom.com. But Texas Tech allowed Texas to rebound only 30% of the possible offensive rebounds in this game. The difference between 30% and 38.5% for offensive rebounding percentage is worth approximately 3 or 4 points in a game like this one.

Thankfully, Clint Chapman came to play in this game. He led all Texas scorers with 4.9 Points Above Median (PAM). Chapman also delivered on the defensive glass, grabbing 23% of the available defensive rebounds while on the floor. Julien Lewis was Texas' second most efficient scorer, with a PAM of 1.6. Alexis Wangmene and Jaylen Bond both chipped in with a lot of defensive rebounds, ending up with defensive rebounding percentages of 27% and 47%, respectively.

One statistical oddity of this game is that all of Texas' turnovers credited to individual players were made by starters (the official box score also lists one team turnover). Each of the Texas starters turned the ball over in greater than 20% of the possessions that ended with the ball in their hands. Alexis Wangmene actually turned the ball over in 50% of the possessions that he used, although this was actually a pretty small number of possessions overall. Not a single player who came off the bench turned the ball over.

What I have learned from studying college basketball play-by-play data

I have spent a lot of time this year looking at shot distributions using play-by-play data. I think it is a powerful way to look at playing style and ability differences between different players, and different teams. I also think we can learn a lot about the game of basketball in general by studying these data. Here are a few observations that I have.

1) Using publicly available play-by-play data sources, we can divide field goal attempts into three groups. First, we have shots at the rim, which includes layups, dunks, and tip ins. Second, there are two point jump shots, which are all other two point attempts that don't fall into this category. Finally, there are three point jump shots. What is interesting to me is that team shooting percentages from these three categories mostly fall into pretty narrow ranges. There are certainly outliers, but in general most teams make around 65% of their attempts at the rim, about 35% on two point jump shots, and about 33% of their three point attempts. There are exceptions to this. For example, there are some really bad teams, like Texas Tech, who make less 60% of their attempts at the rim, and some really good teams, like Syracuse, who make 70% of their shots at the rim. But you have to hunt around to find examples this extreme.

2) Shot distribution, rather than location specific shooting percentages, often plays a much larger role in creating differences in offensive efficiency. A typical NCAA Division I team might get around 1/3 of their shots at the rim, 1/3 on two point jump shots, and 1/3 on three point jump shots. If we imagine a typical team that shoots with the percentages of the preceding paragraph, and evenly distributes their attempts between the three types of shots, the team will end up with an effective field goal percentage (eFG%) of about 50%. Kansas (eFG=54%), is successful in large part because of their shot distribution. They shoot 41% of their attempts at the rim. Oklahoma (eFG=47%) is far less efficient then Kansas, shooting about 25% of their attempts at the rim, and taking more than half of their attempts on two point jump shots. Kansas and Oklahoma have very similar shooting percentages for each type of shot, so the eFG% difference really just comes down to shot distribution. Minimizing two point jump shots should be a strategic goal for any offense. Some people seem to lament the death of the mid-range game, but frankly the mid-range game is just low percentage basketball. It died for a very good reason.

3) In general, a very high percentage of made three point shots are assisted. Typically 80% or more of a team's made three point shots come off of assists, indicating that they are taken in "catch and shoot" situations. There really aren't that many good three point shooters who don't get a high percentage of their made three point shots off of assists. Austin Rivers is one example of an exception to this principle, he makes 40% of this three point attempts and only 37% of his made three point shots have been assisted.

4) The assist data for points scored at the rim is a bit more difficult to figure out. When we look at guards, I think we can tell a lot about the player's ability to get to the rim by looking at their percentage of attempts at the rim, along with the percentage of their points at the rim that were assisted. For instance, Myck Kabongo takes 38% of his field goal attempts at the rim, and only 10% of his made field goals at the rim have been assisted. When Sheldon McClellan or Julien Lewis get points at the rim, 40% of the time these come off of an assist.


5) For big men, interpreting the % of points scored at the rim off of assists gets trickier. 45% of Jaylen Bond's made shots at the rim have been assisted. Compare that with Clint Chapman, who has 63% of his made shots at the rim coming off of assists. I suspect that large portion of this difference is due to the fraction of points that each player gets off of offensive rebounds, although I will need to modify the program that I use to extract data from the play-by-play files to be sure. For now, the information that I gather is incomplete in this way.

6) Assists can perhaps tell you things about offensive priorities. Let's again return to the case of Kansas and Oklahoma. As I pointed out above, Kansas takes a much higher fraction of their shots at the rim than does Oklahoma. 58% of Kansas' points at the rim are assisted, whereas only 36% of Oklahoma's points at the rim come on assists. When we look at two point jump shots, the situation reverses. 55% Oklahoma's made two point jump shots are assisted, whereas only 30% of Kansas' points on two point jump shots come as a result of an assist. This suggests to me that the Oklahoma offense is designed to create two point jump shots, while the Kansas offense is working to get attempts at the rim. Differences in personnel also probably come into play here. For what it's worth, Texas' assist percentage on shots at the rim and two point jump shots is about the same, at 41%.

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