Unsurprisingly, good 3-point shooting tends to produce good offenses. Of the top 40 offenses this season per KenPom, 35 are shooting better than the Division I average — 33.4% — from downtown. Here are the five offenses that have managed to succeed offensively thus far despite below-average shooting.
Ohio State: 8th in offense, 31.2% from three (228th-best)
Houston: 13th, 30.9% (241st)
Minnesota: 19th, 30.9% (240th)
Alabama: 37th, 31.8% (220th)
Connecticut: 38th, 32.4% (202nd)
How have these offenses managed to thrive, and is there reason to expect their 3-point shooting will improve? If so, they could soon reach a whole new level of efficiency.
Ohio State: Although the Buckeyes have shot a solid 51.4% from 2-point range, this hasn’t been enough on its own to offset the team’s subpar 3-point shooting. Instead, Ohio State has excelled at limiting turnovers (11th), grabbing offensive rebounds (38th), getting to the line (49th) and making free throws (26th).
Should the team’s 3-point shooting improve? The Buckeyes’s highest volume shooter Duane Washington is hitting a solid 37.5% of his threes (39.3% last season), so there’s not much reason to expect improvement from him. No. 2 in volume — Justin Ahrens — has made an unsustainable 51.3% from downtown, so this isn’t the answer either. Each of EJ Liddell, CJ Walker, Justice Sueing and Musa Jallow are shooting worse than they did last season, so one might anticipate some improvement from them going forward. Still, none of this quartet shot better than 33.3% in 2019-20, so this would be unlikely to move the needle much.
Overall, Ohio State will likely continue to be a below-average 3-point shooting team this season. The Buckeyes are attempting threes at the 141st-highest rate in the nation (38.8%), so perhaps Chris Holtmann’s squad should scale back its attempts a bit.
Not only have the Cougars struggled mightily from downtown, but the team’s 47.0% 2-point percentage is also below the Division I average (49.7%). Elite offensive rebounding has been key to overcoming these shooting challenges. Houston has grabbed a 4th-best 40.4% of its misses, trailing only Cal St. Bakersfield, Connecticut and North Carolina. 6-7 senior Justin Gorham has led the way, posting the 3rd-best offensive rebounding rate in the nation. The Cougars have also benefitted from getting to the line at the 46th-highest rate and making 74.2% of their free throws.
Will the team’s 3-point shooting improve? If Caleb Mills doesn’t return to the team, this will make things even more difficult. The sophomore had only made 1-4 threes so far this season but went 50-137 (36.5%) in 2019-20. The Cougars’s highest volume shooter is Quentin Grimes, who has only hit 31.1% from long-range, but he only made a slightly better 32.6% last season. No. 2 in volume — Marcus Sasser — has hit 36.7% from downtown (35.2% last season), so there’s little reason to forecast improvement here. Perhaps Gorham (5-11 from three) can maintain this efficiency on a higher volume, but I’d bet against it.
Overall, Houston is likely to continue to struggle from downtown, particularly if Mills doesn’t rejoin the team. Like Ohio State, the Cougars might be attempting a few too many threes (146th in attempt rate) and should consider adjusting accordingly.
The Golden Gophers have offset poor shooting by limiting turnovers (17th), getting to the line (5th) and making foul shots (38th-best 75.5%). Juniors Marcus Carr and Liam Robbins have in particular excelled at getting to the charity stripe. Minnesota’s most recent game — a 77-60 home victory over Ohio State — provided a perfect example of this. The duo combined to shoot an impressive 28 free throws (made 20).
Should the team’s 3-point shooting improve? Minnesota’s highest volume shooter in Carr has made 38.4% of his threes (36.1% last season), so he isn’t the problem. No. 2 in volume — Gabe Kalscheur — is only shooting 23.4% after making 34.1% in 2019-20. He’s coming off a 3-6 showing against Ohio State, and there’s ample reason to expect improvement from him going forward. While this is encouraging, No. 3 and No. 4 in volume — Both Gach and Brandon Johnson — are both shooting better than one might have expected given their track records. Some regression could be coming, but maybe the improvement is real?
Overall, expected improvement from Kalscheur should alleviate some of Minnesota’s shooting woes, but it might not move the needle much if Gach and/or Johnson start to struggle from downtown. The Golden Gophers have the 93rd-highest 3-point attempt rate in the nation (41.1%), so the team’s shooting needs to improve significantly to justify this kind of volume. Unlike Ohio State and Houston, however, Minnesota has a clearer path towards achieving this.
In contrast to Minnesota, the Crimson Tide haven’t gotten to the foul line or hit hit free throws at particularly impressive rates. Instead, the Alabama offense has managed to limit turnovers, hit the offensive glass and make 2-pointers just well enough to manufacture a top 40 offense (95th, 75th, 139th respectively in these areas).
Should the team’s 3-point shooting improve? Jaden Shackelford and John Petty are tied for the team lead in 3-point volume with 57 attempts. Shackelford is shooting 36.8% from downtown (35.7% last season), so not much more can be expected from him. While Petty’s 35.1% clip is notably worse than last season (44.0%), this performance may have been a bit of an outlier (34.5%, 37.2% two prior seasons). Perhaps some improvement can be anticipated from Petty, but not too much. Freshman Joshua Primo (34.3%) has shown some flashes as as shooter, so it’s possible he could be part of the solution.
Alabama doesn’t seem to have any other logical places to turn to for 3-point improvement — a few low volume are actually shooting a bit better than one might have expected. Maybe Petty will rediscover his shooting touch from last season, and maybe Primo can become a consistent shooter. If not, however, it seems like the team will continue to struggle mightily from long-range.
Similar to Minnesota, Alabama’s high 3-point attempt rate (23rd, 47.3%) means the shooting needs to improve to justify this level of volume. When one combines the team’s significant 3-point attempts with its fast pace of play (4th nationally), the offense has tons of explosive potential — if shots can fall at a decent clip. Alabama showcased this potential in its upset road victory over Tennessee (shot 10-20 from downtown).
As mentioned earlier, the Huskies are 2nd nationally in offensive rebounding, grabbing 42.2% of their misses. This has been the primary driver of the team’s offense, although it’s also been able to limit turnovers, get to the line, hit free throws and make 2-pointers at slightly above-average rates.
Should the team’s 3-point shooting improve? The team’s highest volume shooter in James Bouknight has made 33.3% of his threes (34.7% last season), so only slight improvement might be expected here. No. 2 in volume — RJ Cole — has made 34.5% from downtown (38.7% last season), so there’s valid reason to expect some positive regression.
Connecticut doesn’t have any other obvious places to turn for improved shooting, and some of its lower volume shooters are already exceeding expectations a bit. Some expected improvement from Bouknight and Cole can help the cause, but the team should continue to be below-average from downtown. Thankfully for the Huskies, they haven’t taken too many threes this season (223rd in attempt rate, 35.4%). Unless the team’s shooting sees some notable improvement, there isn’t much reason to let threes fly at a much greater clip.
(Credit to KenPom for statistics – data up to date as of January 5th)