Seemingly countless issues plagued the 2016-17 Texas Longhorns en route to an 11-22 finish. Among the most glaring weaknesses was the ‘Horns perimeter shooting prowess, of the lack thereof, as Texas finished the season tied for 345th nationally after sinking a mere 29.2 percent of its 620 attempts. The same could be said of Texas’ inability to capitalize on the attempts that come with literally no defense — free throws — as the ‘Horns finished near the bottom of the totem poll in that regard as well after converting just 65 percent.
Although the free throw woes are unjustifiable, the former could easily be credited to the Longhorns lack of a true point guard last season, as the ball was rarely placed in the right hands at the right time.
Fast forward to the 2017-18 campaign and Texas has that efficient floor general in freshman Matt Coleman. Yet, despite a clearly superior overall product and a quality coach on the court in Coleman, the ‘Horns have regressed from the perimeter, and furthermore, largely remain as was from the charity stripe.
It’s quite safe to say those persisting problems are the difference in Texas returning to Austin from the PK80 Invitational at 4-2, as opposed to potentially 6-0 with two ranked wins.
At the most rudimentary level, Texas is currently tied for 321st nationally with a three-point success rate of just 28.1 percent, while ranking 291st with only 65.2 percent of its free throw looks falling thus far.
Are the numbers misleading?
Maybe a bit, but more notably, they’ve already proven costly.
Despite connecting on just 28.7 percent of its looks from the perimeter and 63.6 percent of its charity stripe attempts throughout the first four games, Texas cruised to a 4-0 record on the strength of a 100-point scoring advantage. The competition level, however, wasn’t exactly overwhelming and thus, provided room for such inconsistencies, with wins coming over Northwestern State, New Hampshire, Lipscomb, and Butler.
When pitted against some of college basketball’s elite, though, as Texas was throughout the PK80 Invitational against No. 1 Duke and now-No. 15 Gonzaga, the margin for error was minimal.
Ironically, so too was Texas’ success shooting the ball, especially when it mattered most.
For example, with just 11:16 remaining in Texas’ meeting with Duke, the Longhorns owned a 16-point edge, 62-46. Prior to that point, Texas only converted 4-20 three-point attempts, but 10-11 looks from the free throw line. Throughout the remainder of regulation and the five-minute overtime, the ‘Horns clanked all three of their perimeter looks and cashed in on only 4-10 attempts from the charity stripe, inlcuding just 1-4 during overtime.
Texas lost by only seven points, 85-78.
The following game against Gonzaga, Texas excelled from the free throw line, sinking 11-15 overall and both attempts in overtime, but converted just 8-22 three-pointers. More notably, after rallying from 21 down to force overtime and ultimately striking first in the extra minutes with a Mohamed Bamba dunk, Texas lost 76-71 after missing all three three-pointers down the stretch.
In short, in crunch time with an opportunity to knock off two of the nation’s premier programs, Texas missed all six of its perimeter looks and converted just half of its free throw opportunities (6-12). Theoretically, Texas left as many as 24 points on the floor in two losses that came by a combined 12 points.
Interestingly enough, though, the shooting struggles aren’t necessarily a team-wide issues, which is why, as noted, the numbers can be a bit misleading when the sample size is just six games.
Of the four returning Longhorns who heaved from the perimeter last season — Andrew Jones, Kerwin Roach II, Eric Davis Jr., and Jacob Young — only Roach has regressed in regards to his efficiency, dropping from 28.4 to 23.1 percent. After struggling mightily as a freshman, connecting on a mere 22.7 percent of his looks, Young stands as the only Longhorn shooting above 40 percent from the perimeter thus far (41.2%). Jones has also improved to 38.5 percent from 32.8 percent as a freshman, while Davis has climbed from 25.9 percent in 2016-17 to 35.7 percent thus far this season.
So where exactly are the shooting woes stemming from?
Aside from Roach’s inconsistencies through six games, the struggles can largely be found in Texas’ fresh faces.
Although the sample size is just six games, Bamba and Dylan Osetkowski have combined to connect on just 3-27 perimeter attempts, and when Coleman’s efforts are factored in, Texas’ three standout newcomers are a combined 10-50 from deep; just 20 percent.
The free throw line tells a similar tale.
Although the team as a whole has converted just 88 of its 135 attempts, the majority of the rotation is cashing it at an acceptable clip, with Roach and Jericho Sims’ collective 15-33 success rate as the outlier:
- Dylan Osetkowski — 16-22 — 72.7%
- Kerwin Roach II — 12-22 — 54.5%
- Matt Coleman — 13-20 — 65%
- Andrew Jones — 15-19 — 78.9%
- Mohamed Bamba — 11-16 — 68.8%
- Jericho Sims — 3-11 — 27.3%
- Eric Davis Jr. — 6-7 — 85.7%
Generally speaking, there’s little that can be done about the free throw woes outside of implementing addition reps outside of game settings, but the lack of success from the perimeter essentially boils down to a combination of shot selection and a bit of bad luck.
Although Bamba and Osetkowski each have range out beyond the arc, their collective 11.1 percent success rate is less than ideal, especially with Young, Jones and Davis each shooting as well as they are to begin the season. Coleman, too, has proven he can connect from deep, but as Shaka Smart detailed prior to the PK80 Invitational, he aspires for Coleman to focus much less on he own shots and much more on assuring his teammates receive quality looks. Despite that desire, Coleman has attempted the second-most three-pointers on the team with 23, which is just three fewer than Jones and at least six more than any other Longhorn.
In short, as a unit, Texas has failed to take a step forward in two areas that proved to be so damning throughout Smart’s second season on the Forty Acres. The good news, however, is that the initial efforts speak towards a few individual struggles, as opposed to an entire unit that simply has very little shooting touch.
As Smart has said time and time again, his team performs well from the perimeter in practice. With the non-conference schedule not likely to get much easier ahead of what should be another grueling Big 12 slate, though, failing to collectively translate the shooting success found at Denton A. Cooley Pavilion to the Frank Erwin Center and beyond could quite easily prove to be the difference in a good season and a great one.