This is part of a series of posts examining whether offense or defense has more control of various aspects of a typical college basketball game. The introduction is here. A description of the methodology is here.
Pat Benatar’s Love Is a Battlefield found itself in the top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 in December of 1983, about the same time the lane was becoming a battlefield in college basketball. It was the heyday of shot blocking with Patrick Ewing at Georgetown, Hakeem Olajuwon at Houston, and Keith Lee at Memphis State all regularly swatting shots and leading their teams to a top-five ranking.
Even the relatively diminutive Dallas Comegys at DePaul was blocking three shots a game as a freshman, helping the Blue Demons to hold opponents to a pitiful 41 percent from the field. He still owns DePaul’s record for career blocks. I think it’s possible that Benatar’s seminal hit may have been inspired by the work of these gentleman because it turns out the battlefield of college basketball is inside the 3-point arc.
There is a 50/50 split between offensive and defensive influence on 2-point percentage. One can imagine that field goal percentage on long 2’s is still in majority offensive control, so it’s possible that 2-point percentage at the rim is slightly in the domain of the defense. Consistently winning on the battlefield of 2-point percentage at both ends of the floor is typically important for future success. It’s rare to have a bad offense (or defense) if you’re effective at making 2’s (or preventing them). And a good figure in 2-point field goal defense is less likely to be a fluke than its counterpart for 3-point defense.
As for why this is the case, we can start with the fact that shooters aren’t as willing to take a perimeter shot with someone in their face, yet this happens all the time on 2-point shots. Witness that the vast majority of blocked shots occur on 2-pointers. Why are shooters so picky about their 3-pointers and so haphazard about shots closer to the rim? I mean, nobody is going to take a 3-point shot with someone arm’s length from them unless it’s near the end of shot clock but it happens all the time in the paint.
We can turn to Benatar, who said, “we are strong, no one can tell us we’re wrong [when we pass up guarded 3’s to attack the rim].” And that is indeed the mindset of the modern player that continues to take contested shots in the paint. You can’t—and shouldn’t—tell them they’re wrong. For one thing, if one’s form is altered on a long-distance shot, the chance of the shot being successful drops significantly. (More wisdom from Benatar: “But if we get much closer, I could lose control [of the ball]”.) At the rim, you can adjust in mid-air and still have a decent chance to make the shot.
And naturally you may get fouled when shooting a contested shot at the rim, where you can earn three points the “old-fashioned way” as the cliche goes. Although that was the only way in Benatar’s day. Sure you may get the shot blocked or altered to an extent where it won’t go in, but the trade-off is worth it, or nearly so.
Here are the coaches with the best 2-point percentage figures on offense (minimum ten seasons in the books since 2002).
1 Jimmy Tillette 56.0 2 Joe Scott 54.5 3 Rick Byrd 54.2 4 John Thompson III 53.8 5 Billy Donovan 53.6 6 Mark Few 53.2 7 Jeff Neubauer 52.9 8 Bill Self 52.8 9 Ben Howland 52.3 10 Stew Morrill 52.1
The top two here are arguably the most devoted to a Pete Carril/Princeton offense of any coaches in the current millennium. Jimmy Tillette’s run is a testament to the notion that field goal percentage – even effective field goal percentage isn’t everything. Somehow his 2002 Samford team won a national eFG title and finished fourth in the Atlantic Sun in offensive efficiency. (He also won an eFG title in 2005, and that Samford team was decent enough in other areas to produce a legitimately impressive offense.)
And now for defense…
1 Jim Calhoun 40.9 2 Bill Self 41.8 3 John Calipari 42.0 4 Rick Barnes 43.3 5 Gary Williams 43.3 6 Mark Few 43.5 7 Rick Pitino 43.8 8 Rick Stansbury 44.4 9 Jim Boeheim 44.5 10 Mark Fox 44.5
Two coaches make both lists: Mark Few and Bill Self. They are the masters of the battlefield and also win their respective conferences a lot.
Home court advantage for 2’s is greater than it is for 3’s which is another indication that there isn’t nearly as much difference in the quality of 3’s as there is in 2’s. Good 3-point shooting teams have good shooters, while good 2-point shooting teams have a good offense. While 3-point shots are not all the same, most shots are launched when a player is open and thus will be less influenced by the venue. Two-pointers are influenced by offensive and defensive skills – things that might improve at home and suffer on the road.
Year %Offense HCA 2015 51 1.5% 2014 41 1.4 2013 48 1.4 2012 51 1.4 2011 51 1.5 2010 56 1.5 2009 53 1.4 2008 51 1.4 2007 48 1.5 2006 50 1.5 AVG 50 1.4
Offensive Spectrum – Ordered by pct of offensive “control”
FT% 98% (HCA=0.5%, r(off)=.19, r(def)=.04) APL 86% (HCA=-0.1s, r(off)=.55, r(def)=.23) 3P% 83% (HCA=0.7%, r(off)=.12, r(def)=.06) OR% 73% (HCA=1.1%, r(off)=.23, r(def)=.08) 3PA% 71% (HCA=0.0%, r(off)=.52, r(def)=.33) A% 71% (HCA=2.6%, r(off)=.32, r(def)=.21) PPP 64% (HCA=3.7, r(off)=.51, r(def)=.36) NST% 59% (HCA=-0.4%, r(off)=.24, r(def)=.20) 2P% 50% (HCA=1.4%, r(off)=.26, r(def)=.25) ??? 49% ??? 36% ??? 30% ??? 15%