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:
|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.