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Texas basketball Inside the Numbers: Follow the shot differential

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Why counting shots matters.

NCAA Basketball: Big 12 Championship-West Virginia vs Texas Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016-2017 Texas Longhorns basketball season is one that Texas fans would just as soon forget, or at least move on from. And with real games coming soon for Shaka Smart, Mo Bamba, and company, moving on will soon be possible.

I appreciate that desire to move on; I would like to do it as well. If you found last season frustrating and dull, imagine how those of us writing about it felt. Texas was a bad basketball team, and more problematic from a writer's standpoint, Texas was bad in ways that were for the most part repetitive and boring.

But I think it is worth taking one final look back at the 2016-2017 campaign in a specific and focused way. It is a way that will hopefully highlight some important issues to watch for over the early portion of the basketball season. Join me as we look at last year for one final time.

Shot differentials

This will be my seventh basketball season covering the Longhorns at BON. And in those seven years, there has been one thing that I have probably harped on more than anything else — the number of shots a team takes relative to the number of shots its opponents take is a very important factor in determining game outcomes. I am a relentless and tiresome nag when it comes to getting more shots than an opponent.

Basketball is structured in a simple way. Teams take turns with the ball trying to score and after a predetermined length of time we total up the points of each team and determine a winner. This will seem goofy and obvious, but stick with me — you win by getting more points than the opponent.

There are basically two ways to get more points than your opponent. You can either score more points per shooting chance (through a combination of making a higher percentage of your shots and making a sufficient number of higher value three-point attempts, while reducing these things for your opponent) or you can get more shots than your opponent gets. The best teams tend to be good at both.

I have long been obsessed with the number of shots teams and their opponents take, because after doing this for enough years I have found that it tends to have a pretty big influence on game outcomes. Teams that consistently take fewer shots than their opponents usually have poor records.

This is a long and winding preamble to set up one of the most significant shortcomings of the 2016-2017 Texas Longhorns basketball team. Last season, Shaka Smart's team consistently had fewer chances to shoot then their opponents.

On the season, the Texas Longhorns attempted 1,846 field goals and 637 free throws, which works out to an estimated 303 trips to the free-throw line. On a per-game basis, this combined to about 65 shooting chances per game. Meanwhile, Longhorn opponents attempted 1,932 field goals and 580 free throws (approximately 276 trips to the free-throw line). This worked out to about 67 shooting chances per game for Texas opponents.

What is funny is that Texas and its opponents both had essentially identical numbers for points per chances to shoot: 1.03 points per chance (for fans of "true shooting percentage" this works out to a TS% of 0.515). The Longhorns consistent tendency to allow more shot attempts that they attempted was a major factor in a disappointing 11-22 season.

The cause of Texas' poor shot differential

In general, we can make pretty good estimates of shot differentials by looking at just three things.

{shooting chances} = {turnover differential} + {ORB differential} + {extra possessions}

The number of real shooting chances will be defined by a combination of turnover margin, offensive rebounding margin, and extra possessions that a team finds through a combination of luck and time management at the end of halves. For the purposes of this article I have simply estimated shooting chances rather than going over play by play data to count them up, so the above equation is only approximate (although it is a very good approximation).

Last season the Longhorns turned the ball over 29 more times than their opponents, collected 44 fewer offensive rebounds than their opponents, and based on my play-by-play database managed to end the season with ten more possessions than opponents. Adding these three factors up, we would expect that Texas would have had 63 fewer shooting chances than opponents; our estimated number was 59. So this approximation seems pretty close to the mark.

The turnover margin and offensive rebounding margin weren't working in Texas' favor. The answer as to why this is won't come as a surprise to anyone who followed the discussion here on BON last year, or anyone who was a careful observer of the team in general. The Longhorns turned the ball over a lot and didn't get many offensive rebounds. Taking the season as a whole, Texas ranked outside of the top-200 teams nationally in offensive turnover percentage and offensive rebounding percentage, and during Big 12 play ranked ninth out of ten teams in both categories.

Longhorn fans were keenly aware of Texas' turnover problems last season, particularly in contrast to a prior year where upperclassmen Isaiah Taylor and Javan Felix were careful and steady with the ball (and as a result the Longhorns attempted more field goals and more free throws than opponents over the course of the season). Meanwhile, the offensive rebounding problem might have been less noticeable, but was every bit as important. Jarrett Allen and Shaq Cleare did good work on the offensive glass, but didn't get much help from anyone else.

Will these problems carry over to this season?

The 2016-2017 season is over, and more interesting and important at this point is what will happen in the 2017-2018 season. Projections of such things can be difficult, but in this case we at least have some helpful information to use.

Between four Australian exhibitions over the summer and a recent public exhibition against Texas A&M, the 2017-2018 Texas Longhorns have provided five public contests to study. While I haven't been able to dig up good stats for the team in Australia, I was able to watch three of the four games (there was no internet video for the fourth, a 71-69 victory over the Cairns Taipans of the NBL). Meanwhile, there was no video broadcast of the contest with the Aggies, but we do have a box score.

Against the Aggies, Texas shot the ball extremely well, while A&M did not. But a poor shot differential for the Longhorns kept the game close — A&M attempted 19 more field goals and seven more free throws than coach Smart's team. The Longhorns turned the ball over in 28 percent of their possessions, which is a disastrous turnover rate that is a better fit for a Sunday morning CYO league, compared with a more typical for college basketball 17 percent turnover rate for the Aggies. Meanwhile, Texas tracked down 21 percent of its misses on the offensive glass, compared with a rate of 39 percent for A&M.

A 28 percent turnover rate is a bit concerning, but there is at least one mitigating factor at play. Five of those turnovers were committed by Dylan Osetkowski, who was playing with a soft cast of some sort on his right wrist. It was hard to tell from the audio feed, but it is possible that at least some of those turnovers may have been due to not having full use of his dominant hand. Osetkowski is a major cog in the Texas offense, and is going to function as a primary ball handler for the Longhorns. He isn't a player who has been exceptionally turnover prone in his career, although it is worth pointing out that his role on this Texas team will be quite different from what he was asked to do at Tulane. Osetkowski's turnover rate will be something to watch as the season progresses.

However, the problem was bigger than Osetkowski's wrist. I think that, at least in the earlier part of the season, we are going to see some turnovers from the Longhorns. Turnovers also played a significant factor in Texas' two losses in Australia, and a team with a freshman point guard and a bunch of guys who are still getting a feel for playing together is going to turn the ball over some. The hope is that as Big 12 play rolls around things will clean up, but don't be surprised if Texas has some games during the non-conference season where it throws the ball around a bit. Note that we may not be able to tell much about this problem until the Longhorns hit the tougher parts of conference play; last season the team took care of the ball in its first three home games of the year before things started to derail against tougher opponents.

As to how many turnover the Longhorns will force this season, I think your guess is as good as mine. I expect that the Texas defense is going to be outstanding, but it may not be the sort of outstanding defense that creates a bunch of turnovers. On the other hand, if the Longhorn defensive pressure hits its stride, then we may see Texas' defensive turnover rate increase.

On the rebounding end of things, I think the Longhorns defensive rebounding should be fine (I wouldn't panic with the poor showing against the Aggies, who will be one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country this season). I am less optimistic for what will happen on the offensive boards. Texas' two main big men Bamba and Osetkowski will spend a considerable amount of their time playing from 20 feet away, which is going to pull them out of good offensive rebounding position; I suspect they will get some rebounds, but it won't be enough to compensate for other structural factors in Texas' approach that limit offensive rebounding chances. Jericho Sims will likely pull in a bunch of offensive rebounds in the 10-20 minutes a game where he is on the floor.

Texas basketball will be improved, but it is hard to know by how much

I think Texas will have a better season this year than it did last year, simply because I expect that Texas will shoot the ball better and be better defensively than last season; these two things should help the Longhorns develop something of an advantage in the points per shots category.

But what I will be most focused on early in the season will be shot differentials. Improvement in this category will make a huge difference for Shaka Smart's team, and I am not all that sure how big of an improvement we will see. It is something that I will be watching closely.