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Shooting The Magic Number

What is the importance of 42% shooting and can UW achieve it next season?

Utah v Washington Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Now that the dust has settled with the Transfer Portal and with the roster pretty much in shape for the Washington Huskies next season, there is more time to look back at last season to see if there is anything we can take forward to next season.

For this breakdown, I wanted to focus more on overall team shooting percentage on both offense and defense. Similar to batting average in baseball, shooting % stats are not as profound as they once were but can still tell an interesting story. There are plenty more advanced analytics with which to take deeper dives but the basic ones still have some importance.

A 17-15 overall record was an improvement over the 5-21 season in 2020-2021 and provided an entertaining season with the inclusion of 4 Seattle transfers, however it still seemed like the Huskies left a bit on the table despite some of the individual performances by Pac-12 leading scorer Terrell Brown Jr. The Huskies were also 1st in the conference in creating turnovers (15.7 per game) and brought back some excitement on the defensive end. However, a poor non-conference (5-5 record) saw surprising home losses to Northern Illinois, Wyoming, Winthrop and Utah Valley. A common component in these losses and other losses was overall shooting % and opponents shooting %.

A big issue for a lot of the poor shooting performances had to do with relying on mostly guards and wings for 88% of the scoring production. When most of your attempts are long jump shots or mid-range shots versus close to the hoop, your FG% naturally is a bit lower. Terrell Brown was stellar all season and was the biggest threat of scoring in the lane, but he had to carry a lot of the scoring load and his eFG % was only 46%, which can be considered a lower than average number. That was through no fault of his own though because he had to carry a lot of the load and was forced to take some difficult shots. But it did not help UW’s overall shooting percentage in general, which was 11th in the Pac 12 at 41.3%.

In theory, having inside scoring production can help overall team FG% and helps your offense in general to take high % shots and was something the Huskies lacked this past season.

42% as a Magic Number

Husky Basketball play by play announcer Tony Castricone discussed several times the significance of 42% for the Huskies throughout the season. When the Huskies shot the ball above 42% or if they held opponents under 42%, good things happened for UW last year. When both happened, very good things happened and were arguably UW’s best games of the year. When neither happened, very bad things happened like the NIU, Wyoming, Nevada, and Winthrop losses.

  • When UW shot over 42%, UW was 11-2
  • When UW shot under 42%, UW was 5-13
  • When UW held opponents to under 42%, UW was 11-0
  • When UW shot over 42% AND held opponents under 42%, UW was 7-0

So what can this tell us?

The Huskies will need to improve their overall shooting % on offense and on defense to have any chance of getting back into the NCAA Tournament conversation. Of course other factors will be important such as limiting turnovers, creating turnovers, FT shooting and rebounding but the above numbers do give us a good blue print to how Washington can be successful next season.

Looking at the above numbers, UW was 11-0 when holding opponents to under 42% and seems to be a key indicator that improving the defense and overall consistency in the zone can make a big impact in winning games. Unfortunately, teams shot well over 42% in 21 of the games and the offense was not able to bail them out in several of those games. Scoring the ball was important but the defense helped carry the Huskies throughout the season. However, when the Huskies clamped down on defense, there is a correlation in turning good defense into points and being able to win despite poor shooting.

In the games that Washington shot over 42% and held opponents under 42%, the Huskies were 7-0 with a margin of victory of 11.25 points. Easier said than done but the Huskies can make things a lot easier for themselves by upping this trend.

Comparing to the last Tournament team in 2018-19

  • When UW shot over 42%, UW was 20-4 in games
  • When UW shot under 42%, UW was 7-5 in games
  • When UW held opponents to under 42%, UW was 16-2
  • When UW shot over 42% AND held opponents under 42%, UW was 10-2

One of the losses that year was at Auburn where UW shot a scorching 55% and held Auburn to only 41% but the Huskies turned the ball over 18 times and Auburn grabbed 19 offensive rebounds, which made all the difference. So again, other factors can make an impact but for the most part, good things happened when UW shot over 42% or held opponents under 42%. The big difference is that this team was able to do it more consistently on both offense and defense.

Now the 2018-19 team had quality scoring production from Jaylen Nowell and Noah Dickerson plus a once in a lifetime defensive star in Matisse Thybulle but 42% is not an elite or unrealistic number to get to. For example, eleven Pac-12 teams, shot over 42% as a team in 2018-19. The league midpoint in the 2021-2022 season was 43.7% so 42% is still considered below average. This isn’t an extremely high bar.

How can Washington match these numbers next year?

With a new roster that will be replacing the Pac 12’s leading scorer and 4 of 5 starters, this will be a topic of a lot of debate, especially on the offensive side but let’s look at some reasons to think that UW could get there.

On offense, the Huskies brought in a few impact transfers that will be seeing bigger roles with UW and returning 4 rotation players, plus freshman Jackson Grant. Replacing Brown, Emmitt Matthews, Daejon Davis and Nate Roberts’ production will be difficult overall but as a collective group they shot 43% from the field.

Looking at the Huskies roster next year, the Huskies brought in transfers Keion Brooks, Franck Kepnang, Noah Williams, and Braxton Meah.

  • Keion Brooks: 49% FG
  • Franck Kepnang: 57.5% FG
  • Noah Williams: 33% (40.6% in 2020)
  • Braxton Meah: 78% FG

The collective average of these 4 last year was 45.3% but on 15 fewer total attempts. The % that sticks out the most is Noah Williams at 33% which is bringing the average down a bit. If UW expects Noah to get closer to his sophomore year shooting of 40.6% or beyond that, then that brings up the average to above 47% for the newcomers.

It’s impossible to predict what will happen but we should expect Keion Brooks, Franck Kepnang and even Braxton Meah to increase their usage and shot attempts next year. Brooks, Kepnang and Meah are very efficient close to the basket, each over 52% on 2-point field goals. Meah shot nearly 80% on mostly dunks but those are high percentage shots and will help the Huskies get easier baskets on offense. Brooks and Kepnang should primarily help the Huskies with overall FG% and help bring a more efficient offense in theory. As a whole, the Huskies should be more balanced between the perimeter and post scoring.

The other key ingredients would be returning players such as Jamal Bey (33.6%), PJ Fuller (39.7%), Cole Bajema (33.5%) and Langston Wilson (41.7%) to each increase their shooting %, which shouldn’t be too much to ask for. Even if they only improve individually by a few percentage points, the Huskies should see a more efficient and balanced scoring effort and more games above 42% from the field. There may not be a ton of outside shooting on the current roster but hopefully UW’s size will help out their effectiveness inside.

How about the defense?

Now that we got the offense out of the way, if there is anything to feel pretty good about, it should be on the defensive side next year. Adding Brooks, Kepnang, Williams, and Meah in the transfer portal were key components to getting back to a top of the conference defense and should have the post presence to help keep teams under 42%.

Franck Kepnang was brought in to be an elite shot blocker on defense and should challenge as the top shot blocker in the Pac-12 next season. At 6’11, Kepnang has a long wingspan with elite athleticism, and should make a big impact on defense as long as he can stay out of foul trouble. In addition, the Huskies also brought in 7’1 Braxton Meah to help protect the paint.

Too many times last year, teams like Arizona, USC, UCLA and Washington State pounded UW in the paint and shot well above 42% against the Huskies. Not to mention non-conference mid-major opponents with talented big men like Utah Valley or Wyoming. With more size in the post, the Huskies should be more equipped to match up this year with opposing post players.

Finally, overall size and length across the entire lineup and rotation is far ahead of last season. The Huskies could be rolling out a starting lineup of 6’4, 6’5, 6’6, 6’7 and 6’11, with players off the bench at 6’7, 6’9, 6’10 and 7’1. The overall size should both help defend the 3 and the post.

Ultimately, a lot will come down to the team chemistry and learning the zone but UW has the options to throw out a lot of size in the zone and also be able to match up in Man to Man which the Huskies have gone to more and more recently.

However, this might finally be the closest roster we have seen that compares to a traditional Syracuse 2-3 zone and has the potential on paper to be a really good defensive team. Even if the offense doesn’t see much improvement, the floor for this team is at least competitive if they can field a nearly top-of-the-conference type defense. We’ll find out in November and these next 4.5 months will be very important for the team to gel on both sides of the ball. It will be interesting to follow and see if the Huskies can hit these marks consistently enough over the course of the season.