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Shot blocking part III: Looking a few programs of interest

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Some time during the summer, I decided I would tackle this project about blocked shots.  I gathered some data and put together a graph.  Then I started writing, gradually adding additional material.  After several weeks, I ended up with a 5000 word monster that was largely a collection of disconnected bits.  Now, I know you folks are pretty patient with me, but I also know there is a limit.  So I made the decision to split the post up into three parts.  Part one looked at different ways of understanding the value of a blocked shot.  Part two applied some of the tools described in part one to help understand the rise and fall of the Texas defense in 2011.

In this, my final part, I have collected some of the remaining disconnected bits.  I want to look at some programs that have consistent success at blocking shots, as well as some that consistently hold opponents to low field goal percentages on unblocked two point shots.  This approach allows us to start to look under the hood to understand what makes some of the very best college basketball defenses special.


Looking at individual teams that block shots well


Here is a list of the top 20 schools by shot block percentage for the 2010-2011 seasons.  As usual, the data source is the outstanding site.

Team Blk% Opp 2 pt FG%
Syracuse 18.9 44.4
Northwestern St. 17.6 46.8
Florida St. 17.5 40
Minnesota 16.7 43.9
South Carolina 15.8 45.5
Kentucky 15.5 42.4
Campbell 15.2 45.8
Central Florida 14.7 43.6
Georgia St. 14.7 44.5
Rutgers 14.5 44.7
Saint Joseph's 14.5 47
Hampton 14.2 41.1
Alabama 14.2 41.8
Buffalo 14.2 44.1
Duquesne 14.2 46.7
Norfolk St. 14 46
Mississippi 14 46.1
Arkansas 13.9 45
Connecticut 13.6 42.4
Louisville 13.5 43.4


Let's take a look at a few of the programs on this list.  I am going to highlight a few of them that seem to consistently block a lot of shots from year to year.

Syracuse is at the top of this list.  Zone defense produces some strange statistical results, when compared with man to man defenses.  In general, zone defenses tend to give up a lot of three point attempts and a lot of offensive rebounds.  Also, as you see below, Syracuse's opponents generally shoot pretty well on unblocked 2 point attempts (NCAA average for this is around 53%).  Interestingly, while Syracuse does tend to give up a lot of three point attempts, their opponents generally don't shoot very well from three.  Contrast that with the results that another zone coach gets.  Perhaps Syracuse's efforts closing out on three point shooters makes them more susceptible to open two point shots.  If true, this is probably a pretty good trade-off to make.



season Blk% Opp 2 pt FG% FG% on non-blocked 2s
2011 18.9% 44.4% 54.7%
2010 17.2% 46.3% 55.9%
2009 12.3% 48.1% 54.8%
2008 15.8% 46.8% 55.6%
2007 18.0% 40.5% 49.4%
2006 17.3% 43.2% 52.2%
2005 13.3% 43.1% 49.7%
2004 16.8% 45.6% 54.8%
2003 16.8% 43.6% 52.4%


When you play zone, it is really hard to have a good defense without a lot of size.  Syracuse needs all of those blocked shots to be successful.  Otherwise, they would just get killed by the high field goal percentage on unblocked shots, combined with all of the offensive rebounds that they allow (a direct consequence of the difficulty players have blocking out in a zone).  Again, look at the teams Scott Drew has fielded.  The only one that played well on defense blocked a lot of shots.  If you don't have a couple of giant guys who can block a lot of shots and grab rebounds without everyone boxing out, you shouldn't play zone.


Florida State has been the number one rated defensive team in Division I in each of the last two seasons, per  Rather than writing about Florida State's defensive excellence, I will just link this post over at the Mikan Drill, which tries to understand just what makes this defense tick.


Florida St.

season Blk% Opp 2 pt FG% FG% on non-blocked 2s
2011 17.5% 40.0% 48.5%
2010 17.7% 40.3% 49.0%
2009 16.0% 42.1% 50.1%
2008 10.4% 48.0% 53.6%
2007 9.1% 51.2% 56.3%
2006 7.0% 47.7% 51.3%
2005 9.3% 49.1% 54.1%
2004 11.2% 45.9% 51.7%
2003 12.5% 42.2% 48.2%


It is kind of amazing that Connecticut is ranked so low on this list.  From 2003-2010, UConn never ranked lower than #3 in shot block percentage.  2011 was by far their worst season for blocking shots.  More than anything else, Calhoun's program is built on defense, rebounding, and big guys who defend the rim.


season Blk% Opp 2 pt FG% FG% on non-blocked 2s
2011 13.6% 42.4% 49.1%
2010 17.7% 42.8% 52.0%
2009 17.1% 40.9% 49.3%
2008 19.3% 40.4% 50.1%
2007 21.0% 39.7% 50.3%
2006 19.6% 41.7% 51.9%
2005 20.4% 41.4% 52.0%
2004 17.5% 38.7% 46.9%
2003 16.7% 41.0% 49.2%


A few other prominent teams of interest are Kentucky and the University of Minnesota.  (Well, Minnesota is of interest to me; I went to grad school there.)  Both of these teams have blocked a decent number of shots in the last few years.  Coach Cal's Memphis teams also blocked a lot of shots, finishing in the 25 in shot blocking percentage every year going back to 2003.  In the Tubby Smith years, the Gophers have also blocked a lot of shots.  Having Ralph Sampson III doesn't hurt.

Opponent FG% on unblocked shots


The list of the top 20 schools who have low opponent 2 point FG% on shots that aren't blocked (2010-2011) is also very interesting.  Notice that Florida State is also on this list.

Blk% FG% on non-blocked 2s
Vermont 9% 46.4%
St. Peter's 12% 46.6%
Utah St. 9% 46.7%
Pittsburgh 9% 47.5%
Gonzaga 10% 47.6%
Texas 12% 47.6%
Drexel 7% 47.6%
Duke 10% 47.7%
Fairfield 9% 47.8%
Nebraska 11% 47.9%
Hampton 14% 47.9%
Notre Dame 10% 48.2%
American 8% 48.3%
Hawaii 11% 48.3%
Texas A&M 5% 48.4%
Bucknell 9% 48.4%
Xavier 9% 48.4%
Coastal Carolina 12% 48.5%
Southern California 8% 48.5%
Florida St. 18% 48.5%


Finally, we reach a list that contains the Texas Longhorns.  In a previous post I wrote about the 2010-2011 Texas Longhorns defense, specifically referencing opponent FG% on unblocked shots.  The success of the Texas defense against unblocked two point attempts in 2011 was amazingly low, but it wasn't a total fluke.  The NCAA Division I average for 2 point FG% on unblocked shots is around 53%.  Texas has consistently done better than that, sometimes by a large amount.


season Blk% Opp 2 pt FG% FG% on non-blocked 2s
2011 11.7% 42.0% 47.6%
2010 13.0% 43.6% 50.1%
2009 13.8% 43.5% 50.5%
2008 14.2% 43.2% 50.3%
2007 14.1% 44.0% 51.2%
2006 13.9% 42.0% 48.8%
2005 11.1% 44.1% 49.6%
2004 10.1% 44.1% 49.1%
2003 8.7% 44.2% 48.4%


It is no surprise to see Duke near the top of any list related to defense.  Duke's results against 2 point attempts in the last two years are particularly impressive when you consider how much effort they put into running guys off of the three point line.  Duke is in the top 10 virtually every year in allowing the lowest percentage of opponent field goal attempts from 3 point range.  Defending the three point line is a major goal for Coach K.  In the table below, we see that Duke is generally better than average in defending non-blocked 2 point attempts, although in some years they are not that much better than average.



season Blk% Opp 2 pt FG% FG% on non-blocked 2s
2011 9.7% 43.1% 47.7%
2010 9.8% 44.0% 48.8%
2009 9.5% 46.8% 51.7%
2008 8.8% 47.0% 51.5%
2007 11.5% 45.7% 51.6%
2006 11.6% 46.4% 52.5%
2005 13.9% 41.2% 47.9%
2004 14.9% 43.5% 51.1%
2003 12.5% 46.5% 53.1%


It is a bit surprising to me that Utah State hasn't had more NCAA tournament success.  They seem like a team that is built for upset wins.  (Lord knows that I pick them every year in my NCAA tournament pool.)  The last two Utah State teams have had a lot in common with Butler.  Both teams play tough half court defense without a lot of blocked shots and clean up the defensive glass.  Both teams manage to do this without a tremendous amount of size inside.  (Butler in 2011 actually had decent size, but their previous teams did not.)  Both teams play at a slow pace and shoot the three, although Utah State doesn't take as many of them as Butler does.  Defense, three point shots, and rebounding makes up a good recipe for NCAA tournament success for less athletic teams.  If you can't get out and run, you might as well send five guys to the defensive glass and lock down the defensive boards.

Utah St.

season Blk% Opp 2 pt FG% FG% on non-blocked 2s
2011 9.0% 42.5% 46.7%
2010 9.7% 44.7% 49.5%
2009 6.8% 44.3% 47.5%
2008 7.0% 47.4% 51.0%
2007 6.8% 51.6% 55.4%
2006 7.6% 45.8% 49.6%
2005 8.3% 43.8% 47.8%
2004 7.6% 47.9% 51.8%
2003 5.6% 48.4% 51.3%



I looked pretty hard to find good teams that have high opponent FG% on unblocked 2 point attempts.  There just aren't very many of them.  Typically if you do poorly in this statistic, you are going to be lousy on defense.  Syracuse is probably the best program that consistently does poorly at opponent FG% on unblocked 2 point attempts.  One of the only other decent programs that I could find that did poorly in this statistic in some years was Mike Anderson's Missouri teams.  Anderson's teams make up for these sorts of problems by forcing turnovers at an amazing rate.


Missouri (M. Anderson)

season Blk% Opp 2 pt FG% FG% on non-blocked 2s
2011 12.2% 48.4% 55.1%
2010 12.3% 45.2% 51.5%
2009 9.3% 46.8% 51.6%
2008 7.8% 49.8% 54.0%
2007 8.1% 46.6% 50.7%


My digging through the data supports an interesting, if unsurprising idea.  There are some good defensive teams that don't block a lot of shots.  But there are very few teams that are good on defense while allowing a high field goal percentage on opponent's unblocked two point attempts.  This makes a lot of sense, when you think about it.  Roughly two thirds of all field goal attempts are taken from two point range in NCAA Division I basketball.  Even the best teams only block about 15% of these two point attempts.  So more than half of all field goal attempts are unblocked two point attempts.  If a team gives up a high field goal percentage on this many attempts, it is hard to have a successful defense.