Living By The Three
Two of the country's most exciting and efficient offenses dropped surprising games at home last night. West Virginia fell to Marshall, 58-52, while North Carolina State was knocked off by Seton Hall, 83-65. The win for Marshall was only its eigth of the season, while Seton Hall entered the year hoping to improve on last year's marks of 12-16 and 4-12 in the Big East. The outcomes of these two games were certainly surprising, but the reasons that WVU and NC State lost are readily apparent.
The two basketball teams share many characteristics - they're listed 13-14 in the latest Coaches Poll, they're both among the country's ten most efficient offenses, and both offenses are fueled by hot shooting and low turnover rates.
- PPP is Ken Pomeroy's adjusted Points scored Per Possession.
One final similarity serves as something of a double-edged sword for these teams. They both run offensive systems that rely heavily on the three point shot, as seen in the table below.
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Shooting threes provides one obvious advantage - they're worth 50% more than their counterparts inside of 19'9". Attempting a lot of threes and making a decent percentage of them is a recipe for offensive success, in that you can score more points than by shooting twos alone. The downside of the three, however, is its variability. Teams don't often go cold on shots inside of ten feet, but even good shooting teams occasionally fire blanks from downtown.
Here's a quick, simplistic example. Team A shoots only twos. A bad night might mean shooting 45%, while they'll hit 60% when the offense is clicking. Team B shoots only threes. Their performances generally range from 25% accuracy to 50%. If both teams get 50 shots, Team A will score between 45 and 60 points. Team B will score between 37.5 and 75 points. The three point shooting team will have higher highs, but lower lows.
Back to our teams of focus, West Virginia and North Carolina State. We've established that both rely on the three for much of their scoring. That means that when the shot is dropping, they can be giant-killers (see WVU's wins at Villanova and UCLA, NC St's 18-point win over Boston College), but when they're a bit off, they're susceptible to the upset. Well over half of West Virginia's 52 shots were threes against Marshall, but in making only 5-29 (17%), their offense couldn't provide the firepower to run with the Thundering Herd. Likewise, NC State hit only 8-30 (27%) last night, and the normally potent Wolfpack offense couldn't even keep up with Seton Hall.
So the lesson is simple - shooting more threes can lead to a better offense, but it also invites the occasional unexpected letdown.