Coming off yet another loss in the Big 12, the Texas Longhorns are limping into the second half of conference play. Shaka Smart’s team is struggling and Texas fans want answers.
Today, I am going to attempt to give you those answers in as concise a manner as possible, which is something that is almost painful for me.
First of all, I have to make an admission. Lately I have been a little behind on... a lot of stuff. And when I am behind, one of the things that falls by the wayside is reading. And so I have to admit that I haven’t had much time to do things like read John Gasaway’s excellent blog for the last few weeks, and I missed something that I feel that I need to pass along to all of you.
Anyone who has read the basketball coverage here at Burnt Orange Nation for a while knows that I can get kind of obsessed with the number of shots that team’s take relative to the number of shots attempted by their competition. The Longhorns have been at a deficit relative to their opponents in this measure much of the time this season.
Going back to some of the very earliest pieces I wrote for BON reveals this obsession.
Success in basketball just comes down to four simple things:
1. Maximize the number of shots you get per possession.
2. Minimize the number of shots your opponent gets per possession.
3. Be as efficient with your shots as possible.
4. Make you opponent as inefficient with their shots as possible.
Items 1 and 3 on that list completely define offensive success. The only things that matter for a basketball offense are things that influence these two items. There is nothing else.
Gasaway shares my obsession. He has been writing about the number of shots offenses create for some time, but recently has taken things a step further. He is now tracking how many shots per 100 possessions teams are taking in major conference play. Here is John’s most recent list of how major conference teams are managing, which is now a little bit out of date, but still should be fairly helpful. Again, I am behind.
Stumbling across this article on a lazy Sunday morning, I immediately scrolled down to the bottom of the list, knowing I would find the Texas Longhorns somewhere down there. I did — at number 75, all the way at the bottom.
Per this measure, though Jan. 25, the Texas Longhorns were in last place, attempting only 89.2 shots per 100 possessions. (Note that this measure combines FGAs and FTAs in a sensible way. He refers to it as an “index.”) No team in the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC, Big East, or Pac-12 was attempting fewer shots per 100 possessions than the Texas Longhorns in their league games.
While these numbers are not up to date as of today, I am sure things haven’t improved all that much for Texas.
The average major conference team in John’s measure (he calls it SVI) gets 96 shots per 100 possessions in league games. The best team in the nation — North Carolina — was at 102.5 shots per 100 possessions, while the Big 12 leader — unsurprisingly, it is West Virginia — was at 100.1 points per possession.
An average game for Texas in Big 12 play lasts roughly 71 possessions. West Virginia is only slightly slower, at 70 possessions per game. This means that in a game between Texas and West Virginia we might expect that the Mountaineers would attempt on average between seven and eight more extra chances to shoot than the Longhorns. What do you know, in the last meeting between these two teams, West Virginia had an eight shot advantage over the Longhorns.
So here is the story, Texas fans. The Longhorns have one of the best defenses in the Big 12 and have what would otherwise be a roughly league average offense if it weren’t for the fact that Shaka Smart’s team gets so few chances to shoot.
Texas will continue to lose as long as it fails to correct this huge built-in disadvantage. So long as the Longhorns fail to at least approach something approximating average for the number of shooting chances per possession, the Texas offense will seldom be good enough to win.
And as soon as this problem gets corrected, it will likely start to show up in the win column.