Villanova has made just 28.4% of its 3-point attempts to date. They’ve also taken over half of their shots from beyond the arc. It’s a situation that was made more famous by its lopsided loss to Oklahoma, in which the Wildcats took a whopping 32 3-point attempts, making four.
If you didn’t know any better, you’d say that the Wildcats are a bad 3-point shooting team. But it’s only accurate to say they have been a poor 3-point shooting team. Based on what we know about the Wildcats’ personnel, they have at least a few good shooters who just haven’t shot well through the first eight games of the season.
Josh Hart has made 31% of his 3’s after hitting 40% over his first two seasons. Kris Jenkins has made 29% after hitting 37% prior to this season. Phil Booth is at 28% after a freshman season that saw him hit nearly half of his limited attempts.
We don’t have prior data for the freshman trio of Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo, and Mikal Bridges, who have combined to make just 22% of their shots. They could truly be poor shooters, and I’d imagine that as freshmen, they are a step down from the returning group. But there’s no way their true ability is to make 22% of their 3’s.
So based on what we know about the Villanova roster, the Wildcats will shoot better going forward. But even if we didn’t know anything about the roster, there’s enough information through eight games to suggest not only that Villanova will improve, but future opponents should assume they are a very good 3-point shooting team.
Looking back at mid-December stats from previous seasons, the following things predict a team’s 3-point shooting going forward, in order of importance:
T1. 3-point percentage
T1. 2-point percentage
3. FT percentage
4. 3-point attempt rate
Villanova has been really bad at one of these things (actual 3-point shooting), but the Wildcats have been downright dominant at the other four. They’ve been killing it on 2-pointers, ranking sixth-nationally at 58.3%. And at this point in the season 2-point percentage is just as important as 3-point percentage in predicting future 3-point percentage. Their free throw percentage ranks 85th. They have the third-highest 3-point rate and their turnover rate is third-best in the country.
In using these stats to predict future 3-point percentage this season, Villanova has the 36th-best projection going forward at 36.3%. Oddly, this is exactly the same projection for Oklahoma, who made 14-of-26 long-range attempts against Villanova, raising its season total to an incredible 46.5%.
Keep in mind, this is just a dumb regression that doesn’t directly consider personnel. Given what we know about Villanova’s most frequent shooters, one can reasonably have more confidence that the Wildcats are just going through a phase. Any future opponents would be unwise to assume that Villanova has been afflicted with some sort of permanent shooting disease or that Jay Wright is thinking about abandoning his 4-out approach.
Three-point shooting is prone to a lot of variation from game to game. And in order to predict future 3-point shooting this early in the season, we need more information than a team’s actual 3-point percentage to date. Three-point attempt percentage is more stable at this point, and teams that take a lot of 3’s are probably decent at 3-point shooting. And it’s a particularly bold statement to take a bunch of 3’s while being a very good 2-point shooting team. That team is expecting to make its 3’s at a very high rate.
Well, that describes Villanova. And while it’s unusual for a good shooting team to go through an eight-game slump, it’s not impossible. I’ll take the Wildcats as an above-average 3-point shooting team going forward. And there’s a decent chance they shoot it better than an Oklahoma team that just burned up the nets in their presence.