Let's Chart Some Threes Because We're Nervous Comment Count

Brian March 21st, 2018 at 12:12 PM


[JD Scott]

Michigan's offense during the opening weekend of the tourney was… not great. Michigan failed to hit a point per possession in either game. A sloppy, weird, late-night game against Montana with 14 turnovers rather explains itself. The Houston game not so much.

While Houston does sport one of the country's better defenses, Michigan turned the ball over just seven times. They shot 45% from two, nine points under their season average; they were a grim 24% from three before Jordan Poole's miracle pulled them up to 27%. If they'd hit their not-very-impressive season average of 36%, the end of that game is Michigan putting the clamps on whilst up 6-8 points.

Game-to-game shooting variance is of course the very heart of basketball but I wanted to see if Houston had done anything that warranted that kind of performance or if it was just one of those things. So I started poking around and got quite deep in the weeds, because quantifying what's a good three pointer and what's a bad one is tricky. But I'm willing to give it a shot after checking out this paper from the 2014 Sloan Conference. It uses NBA data to create a model of what a good shot is; that model is way beyond the scope of this post but there were a couple of graphs that confirm everyone's eye test.

The first: catch and shoot is better than off the dribble.


Second, and possibly counterintuitively, every foot matters when you're closing out.


As the paper authors put it it, "it is not simply a matter of a shot being “contested” or not but ... there is significant marginal value in every foot of space between the shooter and the closest defender." I wouldn't necessarily have expected that. (Also, I assume that the big uptick in long jumper eFG when a guy is in your grill is because he's fouling you.)

These are NBA numbers but there's no reason to expect that college basketball players would deviate from either of these assertions. So, here's a bunch of three pointers charted. Spoiler alert: the large majority of the attempts Michigan got off were good looks with reasonable space between the shooter and the defender. A fairly typical look:



Y/N Length Shooter State Defender distance Contest Notes
MISS 22 Mathews catch and shoot 3 light Late clock jack is surprisingly clean look
MISS 23 MAAR catch and shoot 2 heavy Curl screen gets vg closeout from Houston defender
MISS 24 Simpson catch and shoot 6 none PNR switch w big sagging off Simpson, no contest
MISS 22 Livers catch and shoot 3 moderate drive and kick rhythm three from wing
MISS 22 MAAR off the dribble 4 light switch confusion for UH gives MAAR opportunity to gather and go straight up
MAKE 28 Robinson catch and shoot 3 heavy late clock deep jack is worst look of game so far, goes down
MAKE 24 Robinson catch and shoot 7 light V-cut and Teske screen gets Robinson clean look
MISS 22 Wagner catch and shoot 3 moderate pick and pop open-ish, decent contest
MAKE 22 Robinson catch and shoot 2 moderate Robinson's defender is lax for a second and DR just rises over him
MAKE 22 Poole catch and shoot 4 light penetrate and kick to Wagner, extra pass, open corner
MISS 22 Simpson catch and shoot 8 none drive and kick, Poole upfakes and dribbles once to draw a second guy, Simpson wide open in corner
MISS 22 Poole off the dribble 2 heavy bad heat check stepback w/ 21 seconds on clock
MISS 24 Poole catch and shoot 4 light drive and kick from MAAR
MISS 27 Robinson off the dribble 2 heavy late clock, initial contest and one-dribble lanch
MISS 24 MAAR catch and shoot 8 none numbers for M, shot fake from MAAR gets wide open look, airball
MISS 22 MAAR off the dribble 2 heavy last ditch attempt at end of half
MISS 22 Matthews catch and shoot 4 light Wagner kick to Simpson over for open look
MAKE 23 Wagner catch and shoot 5 light Simpson pick and pop
MISS 23 Wagner catch and shoot 5 light Near identical pick and pop from same spot on the floor
MISS 23 Simpson catch and shoot 4 light Poole drive and kick, token contest
MAKE 23 Wagner catch and shoot 5 moderate Pick and pop from left wing, and one
MISS 24 Robinson catch and shoot 6 none wing pick from Matthews opens this up. No contest... airball.
MISS 25 MAAR off the dribble 4 moderate PNR switch, pretty good contest from the big MAAR rises up on
MISS 23 Robinson catch and shoot 6 light Simpson drives baseline and kicks to left wing
MISS 22 Robinson catch and shoot 5 light OREB to scramble drill to corner 3
MAKE 22 Matthews catch and shoot 4 moderate Simpson drive and kick; lucky bounce off heel and straight up and down
MISS 25 Matthews off the dribble 2 heavy late clock jack is not at all a clean look
MAKE 30 Poole catch and shoot 2 heavy THIS IS A BAD LOOK BUT OKAY

Leaving out the two must-launches at the end of each half and Michigan had just 5 off the dribble looks on 28 attempts, two of those from MAAR in pretty good situations. One was a pick and roll switch with the big playing off, the other an opening when Houston got confused on another pick and roll.

Houston did force five heavily contested late-clock jacks, one of which went down when Robinson hit a deep one. There was also one more heavily contested three as Corey Davis came around a screen really well on an early MAAR attempt. The other 20 attempts I charted were all reasonable to excellent looks that simply didn't go down. Eight attempts from Michigan's worst three-point shooters, Simpson and Matthews, isn't a particularly unusual ratio. Those guys have about 20% of Michigan's attempts on the year. 8 of 28 non-desperation threes is a couple more than you'd expect, but not outlandish.

Verdict: just one of those things. One that happens to a team like Michigan that's not exactly Villanova.



March 21st, 2018 at 12:31 PM ^

I honestly kind of wish it was Houston's defense. I thought we were going to lose the game when Robinson airballed two threes, can't do things like that and expect to win too many games.


March 21st, 2018 at 8:47 PM ^

our offense was able to generate good looks against a good defense.  That the shots didn't go down isn't worrisome at all.  It was merely bad luck.  We didn't all of a sudden become a significantly worse 3 point shooting team for no reason.

Basketball is like poker.  You can only put yourself in the best possible situations to score and defend but you're not immune from taking a bad beat (ask Sparty) if you have an unlucky hand or night. If you keep making the right plays, that's the best you can control.

If we can generate the same good looks or better against A&M, we'll be in great shape.

M_Born M_Believer

March 21st, 2018 at 12:43 PM ^

Quantifiable data that confirms what we saw. An off night shooting that kept Houston close. What can’t be quantified is the hunan emotion aspect (nerves, fatigue, etc)

And as Arizona, Buffalo, TAMU and MSU can attest to. Variants from the norm either way will impact a game significantly.

Hopefully the boys can relax and just play their game. If they do this weekend then I get to watch them live the following weekend in SA!


March 21st, 2018 at 12:46 PM ^

1. Nerves

2. Long layoff (I dont care what anybody says - taking two weeks off DOES have an effect on your game and it showed)

3. Unfamiliar sightlines

4. Unfamiliar and inconsistent officiating

There's a reason games in the tourny tend to skew to lower scoring instead of higher.  The good news is we won and we're playing tomorrow. And even better news is while we didnt play anywhere near our best we're still playing (unlike MSU or OSU). 


March 21st, 2018 at 2:58 PM ^

These are nice ideas. But this is the bulk of a team that endured some of the most bizarre and challenging circumstances leading into a game one can imagine last year leading into the B1G tournament in DC and still played fine.

Yes, there were odd circumstances.

But I think most of this is just randomness.


March 21st, 2018 at 3:03 PM ^

would you pick randomness over the very distinctly odd circumstances?

This team is in New York, flying high, playing exclusively afternoon games in front of engaged, Michigan heavy crowds, and balling, shooting a very high percentage and in a better offensive flow than they had been all year. 

Then they take two weeks off, get sent to Wichita for two very late night games in front of half-full buildings with very little energy and have poor offensive performances.

And you pick randomness?  Why?


March 21st, 2018 at 3:12 PM ^

Because many of these same players played quite well in a very early game that immediately followed a flight and a bus ride while wearing practice uniforms in a half-empty building the day after the most frightening experience of most of their lives just a year ago.

Meanwhile, Michigan has had a number of games in perfectly normal circumstances throughout this season where they have shot poorly. These things happen. The only real circumstance I give any credence to is the layoff, but even then it only seems to explain the Montana game. The Houston game was at approximately the same time of day, after an acceptable amount of rest, played in front of an arena not appreciably emptier than many games they play in Crisler Center.

The point is that I see no reason why they won't waltz into Staples Center and play like they own the place. They won games in which things went poorly; randomness suggests that things can start going well.


March 21st, 2018 at 3:32 PM ^

expect them to play well this weekend too, but not randomly. I expect them to play well because they have their feet wet in tournament ball, have confidence that they can shoot poorly and win, playing at a high profile venue, at reasonable start times without tip offs damn near midnight.


March 21st, 2018 at 3:14 PM ^

But I dont think it's accurate or at least not entirely accurate.  For example:

Things that are the same as last year

  • Our head coach
  • Two of our starters (MAAR & Wagner)
  • Two of our bench (Robinson, Simpson)
  • Our fight song (thank God)

Things that are different from last year

  • Our assistant coaches
  • Three starters (Livers, Mathews, Simpson)
  • Six of of our bench (Simmons, Brooks, Teske, Watson, Davis, Poole)
  • Our team plane (thank God)

Seems more different than the same to me.



March 21st, 2018 at 3:34 PM ^

I don't think last year's team was uniquely immune to adverse circumstances; I think that they can be overrated. I've looked for the "small circumstance" reasoning before, to (for example) explain why Lloyd Carr could never quite get over the hump in the 2000s, or why Michigan keeps losing to Ohio State.

But sometimes the typical explanations are the right ones. Michigan has typically lost to Ohio State because we have fielded worse players. Lloyd Carr couldn't get over the hump because he was limited as a coach. And, in my opinion, Michigan shot poorly in Wichita because sometimes they're just going to shoot poorly. 



March 21st, 2018 at 3:55 PM ^

I'm sorry, not trying to pick on you, but you cite too distinctly unrandom examples in football as support for a random occurence as to the basketball team?  I am just confused.  When you say "sometimes the typical explanations are the right ones," why are you discarding what would be very obvious or "typical" reasons why a basketball team that was playing very well all of the sudden was playing very poorly?


March 21st, 2018 at 4:06 PM ^

Sorry, I'm not communicating well.

What I am commenting on is my tendency, as a fan, to find small factors that can "explain" why my team that I believe is superior could possibly not be playing so well. It's the length of the grass, or the refs failed to call that offsides properly in the second quarter, or it's the crown of the field at Autzen Stadium. All of the reasons I could use as a fanboy on talk radio to explain why the coach SHOULDN'T be at fault or why the star QB DIDN'T play that bad.

We all do this from time to time. Sometimes we have good reasons (reffing) to do so. But my general sense here is that some (and I was on board with this for a while) are looking for reasons to use circumstance as an excuse for a team that just flat didn't play well on offense that would suggest that the team is better on offense than it really is.

My argument is that the team is what it is: Great defensively, good but not great offensively. And one of the ways that the lack of greatness on offense manifests itself is in bad games like we experienced in the first two rounds. 

For every circumstance we can bring up in Wichita, we can, I am confident, produce circumstances in other contexts this year that existed that the team endured just fine. I mean, I was worried that Jordan Poole was going to hurt his muscles because he walked to MSG in shorts on a cold day! We can also point to games where the circumstances seemed ideal and yet games didn't go well at all. 

I'm discussing our nature as fans to find obscure reasons to explain things instead of simpler, more basic ones. I don't think it was the late night (college kids just haaaate late nights) that affected Mo Wagner. I don't think it was the empty seats that caused MAAR to biff the layup. I just think that the players are who they are.

The team is what it is. That's all, and that's fine.


March 21st, 2018 at 4:11 PM ^

Let me add:

Your original "(stuff) happens" thesis is one I generally agree with. I just don't think we can narrow it down to excessive circumstances as has been done in this thread. It's not that this happened because they're in Wichita playing late in a low-energy building; it's that they're playing at all, and against good defensive teams, and things go badly from time to time. 

Thankfully, ours didn't go badly enough to cause a loss. Contrast with MSU playing in much friendlier circumstances, yet visibly shaken by the Syracuse defense.


March 21st, 2018 at 12:48 PM ^

The biggest thing that changed from the big ten tourney to the NCAA tourney in my opinion is MAAR.

His offensive ratings tell the story. Hopefully, whatever was going on is better now...

B10 Tourney



March 21st, 2018 at 3:11 PM ^

I wish I could remember which broadcast it was leading up to the Tournament but it was reported that Mo Wagner had a head cold while in Wichita so maybe a few guys were dealing with something.  Not enough to keep a player out of game but it could be enough to stop someone from playing their best.


March 21st, 2018 at 12:56 PM ^

Anything resembling UFR is something I enjoy reading.  I am sure there are things we haven't mentioned yet that could factor in (someone said that the ball is different than what the B10 uses for example).  But this give me hope.  

One suggestion might be to compare the outcome to an expected outcome.  You sort of did that for the team overall (27% vs 36%) but a majority of those looks were good and from our best shooters.  If each shooter hit their average on the quality of shots you listed....what would have happened?  I'm guessing it might even be more than your 6-8 point prediction.

My statement all year has been this - If Michigan hits 35% from Three and 65% from FT we'll win.  Only one epic ref job and a scortching night from Purdue has beaten us this year with those stats.  


March 21st, 2018 at 12:58 PM ^

Why would it be counter intuitive to learn that the closer the defender, the worse the shooting percentage? Isn’t it completely intuitive and the entire point of playing defense in the first place?


March 21st, 2018 at 4:16 PM ^

No, I think he was saying it's counterintuitive that each additional foot away the defender is makes the shot harder. He would think that there would be more of a strict cutoff at the point where the defender cannot really challenge the shot, i.e. there is a difference between 0 feet and 5 feet but not between 5 feet and 10 feet.


March 21st, 2018 at 2:20 PM ^

it refutes the kenpom analysis that says three point percentage defense is entirely luck. He periodically does analysis that shows no (or insignificant) correlation between teams that have good three point defense and teams that do not in the first half of a season compared to the second half of a season.

So the explanation for that phenomenon became that it didn't really matter if a guy has two feet to shoot or five feet to shoot.  If you're shooting a three and it's not getting blocked, it apparently doesn't matter where the defender is, was the thinking.  Obviously if the defender is one or two feet away and is in your face or blocking your shot, it matters, but it is surprising to see that 7 feet is better than 4 feet since either way, your sight and shot are completely unimpeded by the defender (but perhaps rushed enough to make a difference).

This data seems to counter that theory which had become accepted within some analytics communities.

I wouldn't be surprised if there were some confounding factors going on here.  Clearly off the dribble is significantly less accurate than catch and shoot and that makes sense.  I would assume that off-dribble 3s are more likely to be taken with a guy closer to the shooter, which if true, conflates those two factors.

I'd be curious to see the percentage by defender distance data broken out by off-the-dribble and catch-and-shoot.


March 21st, 2018 at 3:01 PM ^

I think there is truth to both here. I think generally, people are only taking good 3 pointers. Generally, when a player closes out well, it results in no shot instead of a heavily contested shot, and the situations where a player is taking a heavily guarded 3 pointer are pretty rare.

So, in general the KenPom theory is true but there can be some exceptions depending on what happens in individual games.


March 21st, 2018 at 1:11 PM ^

But it seemed to me that Z and Matthews were getting much better looks overall than the rest of the shooters, to the degree that it was part of the HOU strategy. And as they were missing they started passing up open 3's which meant more difficult shots for the rest. If those two can make a couple of early 3's I think it could make a big difference for the entire team.


March 21st, 2018 at 1:13 PM ^

The top 5 teams on Barttorvik since 2/11 are Duke, Michigan, Villanova, Kentucky, and Houston in that order. For reference Texas A&M is 47th (Gonzaga 10, FSU 53). I think we're more likely to see Madison Square Garden offensive Michigan at Staples Center. Good riddance to Intrust Arena!


March 21st, 2018 at 1:31 PM ^

Just seems like one of those things that happens... even to really good shooting teams.

NC couldn't hit anything last Sunday (<20%), and they shot 36% as a team for the year.

Nova hits 40% as a team on the year, and they hit 24% in their loss against St. John's and 30% in their loss against Creighton.

Obviously some of that is due to desperation 3's late in games, but it happens. Hopefully they can bounce back, get some early momentum going against aTm and roll on through the weekend...


March 21st, 2018 at 5:35 PM ^

also, Nova shot 15% (3-20!!!) in their loss to Providence.  15%!  For the best offense in the country!

So yeah, no one is immune to an off night or two.  And yeah, we have a higher rate of "off" nights because we aren't an elite 3 point shooting team (happens with Matthews and Z playing so many minutes), but we're not going to shoot this badly with the quality of looks we had very often.

The eye test Saturday said, wow, I can't beleive MAAR just airballed a wide open three.  It was just that kind of night.  Let's hope it doesn't happen at Staples.


March 21st, 2018 at 1:16 PM ^

How coupled is 3% shooting to 2% shooting game to game?

Seems to me 3 pt shooting often suffers just when the whole offense is not productive. I suppose maybe once in a while we carve up a team on the inside despite tepid shooting from outside, but usually it seems the whole offense struggles together. A bit of a chicken and the egg scenario. A lot of negative feedback loops that take a team out of rhythm as a whole.


March 21st, 2018 at 1:19 PM ^

assuming we will see a minimum of 20% zone and we don't want to repeat sparty's foolishness and get good three point looks, who is our guy in the middle? 

My mind thinks Livers is expected to be that guy, but i am basing that off  his height and late game passing... the man in the middle has to be that triple threat to drive, shoot or pass effectively (with great decision making).  

Who else fit there best? Duncan? Rahk?


March 21st, 2018 at 1:36 PM ^

They've used Duncan a bit, but I think they've mainly used Mo and Matthews in combination in the middle so far. Both have been fairly effective after the "look at the zone for 3 possessions" phase. Mo's a better distributor, Matthews has been able to use his short-distance driving ability or rise up from the foul line.

Seems like the "look at the zone" phase is a lot about figuring who's going to flash into the middle of the zone and when to do it.


March 21st, 2018 at 2:13 PM ^

He has one of those weird things where he's much more confident as a mid-range rise up shooter than he is at the foul line, even though the shots are equal distance and the in game shots are obviously contested.

The place Matthews is really good in the zone is the short corner. He can flash to the middle of the zone, and he's an explosive enough athlete to either get the ball and quickly go baseline or cut to the rim when the ball is entered into Mo/whoever at the opposite elbow. It's the role that GRIII occupied in 2013/14.