Can Minnesota Win a Big Ten Title With No Discernible Three-Point Attack?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on January 8th, 2013

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

After two months of basketball, there are six B1G teams ranked in the Top 25 and they can be viewed as the main contenders for the conference title at this juncture – Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio State and Michigan State. The Gophers were one of the sleeper picks to compete for the conference title during the preseason but they are now one of the favorites. They have great depth at the guard position (Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins, and Joe Coleman), an athletic wing (Rodney Williams) and a solid post presence (Trevor Mbakwe). But their offense does not rely on the three-point shot at all and they don’t really have a consistent three-point shooter. Can Tubby Smith’s Gophers win the Big Ten title without a discernible three-point attack?

Andre Hollins is the only Gopher that shoots over 40% from beyond the arc. (USA Today)

Andre Hollins is the only Gopher that shoots over 40% from beyond the arc. (USA Today)

Let’s examine how the Gophers’ long-range shooting compares to the rest of the contenders:

Team

3FG

eFG

Michigan

42%

59%

Indiana

41%

58%

Minnesota

33%

52%

Illinois

37%

52%

Ohio State

37%

52%

Michigan State

34%

52%

The Wolverines and the Hoosiers have clearly shoot the ball well because they have several guards who can fill it up from beyond the arc. John Beilein has Trey Burke (41% 3FG) and Nik Stauskas (54% 3FG) available, arguably the best shooter in the country at the halfway point of the season. Tom Crean’s crew can shoot lights-out because Jordan Hulls (51% 3FG) has a quick and accurate release on his jumper. But Dre Hollins is the only Gopher who is shooting over 40% this season. Austin Hollins shoots 37% from beyond the arc but he rarely looks to take the perimeter jumper. Maverick Ahanmisi has shot 38% this year but he only plays 11.6 MPG. Smith’s offense is very effective in its own right but the Gophers rely on moving the ball around in the half-court sets to find the open cutter (usually Coleman or Williams). There are very few plays that are drawn specifically for the guards to hoist a shot from beyond the arc, and as a matter of fact, only 20% of the Gophers’ total points come via the three-point shot.

Even though they are the worst among the B1G contenders in terms of long-range shooting, the Gophers rank third in effective field goal percentage this season. Just because they don’t shoot it well from deep does not mean that they can’t score. They can score with the best in the league; they just do so by getting to the basket off the dribble and finding open men in good positions to score. Both forwards Mbakwe and Williams have several highlight-reel dunks because all three of the guards can handle the ball effectively in the half-court and can get into the paint if the opposing defenders don’t switch off quickly on pick-and-rolls. Williams in particular is constantly looking for the lob to convert into a dunk or draw the foul to get to the charity line.

Despite their ability to split double teams, the Gophers can experience issues against certain types of defensive schemes such as a zone. During the first half of the win against Northwestern on Sunday, Minnesota had trouble scoring at times because of the 1-3-1 zone. The Wildcats’ zone forced the Gopher guards to settle for jumpers because they collapsed quickly towards the high post thereby disrupting any opportunities for easy baskets in the paint. Among the six B1G teams listed above, only Michigan plays the 1-3-1 zone consistently so the Gophers won’t be forced into changing their offensive philosophy much during the conference season. John Groce has the Illini set up in a 2-3 zone at times, but not for an entire 40 minutes because everything is a new system this year in Champaign. Playing the zone could hurt Minnesota in theory, but fortunately for Tubby Smith’s team, not many Big Ten squads execute this defensive system effectively.

If the Gophers fall behind in a game, they might have to turn to the three-ball to get back into it. Except for the Duke loss, they haven’t really been in too much trouble against another opponent. But they don’t necessarily sprint away from the competition either unless the opposition has an off shooting night. Still, if they are unable to lock up the opposing guards, they will find themselves in more close games during the final five minutes. This was the case during their conference season-opening win over the Spartans. They put Michigan State away with a 12-0 run during the final three minutes but they let the Spartans linger throughout the game. Against Illinois on the road on Wednesday night, they might find themselves in another close one if the Illini shooters are hot from beyond the arc.

The lack of a consistent three-point attack may hurt the Gophers at some point this season, but it shouldn’t be a nagging issue because of their discipline and maturity. If they continue to play great defense and utilize their depth effectively, they will force the opposition into taking bad shots which will keep them at the top of the conference. Overall, this lack of a serious three-point threat shouldn’t cost the Gophers the Big Ten title because they have their offensive system in place already and are smart with their shot selection. Playing good defense and looking for shots around the basket is not a bad philosophy if executed well. The Gophers have done that so far this season and they deserve the benefit of the doubt until they have been exposed otherwise.

Deepak Jayanti (241 Posts)


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3 Responses to “Can Minnesota Win a Big Ten Title With No Discernible Three-Point Attack?”

  1. Can they? Sure. 3 pt fg% is not nearly as relevant as how often the teams NEED to take three-pointers, and the Gophers do just fine thank you very much without needed to shoot 3s because better shots are available elsewhere, especially at the free-throw line.

    By the way, Austin Hollins has more 3pt attempts than Andre, so I’m not sure how he rarely shoots from out there. He actually has attempted more 3s than 2s.

  2. DJayanti says:

    Thanks for the comment.

    At the end of the day, I agree that they can certainly win the title without taking too many 3s b/c they are very smart with their shot selection. Other than against teams that play the zone (Michigan), they can continue with their offensive philosophy and still succeed.

    Re. Austin Hollins – I should have been more clear, he is a good 3-pt shooter but I meant to say that he doesn’t attempt as many 3s as a “designated gunner” such as Stauskas.

  3. [...] – You know, this is a great question. Can Minnesota win a Big-Ten title with no real deep threat? (Rush The Court) [...]

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