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January 24, 2013

Inside the Numbers

For all intents and purposes, Iowa is a much-improved team from the squad that made and won a game in the NIT last year. The Hawkeyes are slightly more efficient on offense and have made major strides defensively, and are a much better rebounding team. The numbers support all these claims and are there for the viewing.

Iowa still isn't without weaknesses, obviously, and there is still one major glaring weakness: 3-point shooting.

We had a good idea that Iowa might struggle with perimeter shooting heading into the season, but we didn't quite know it would be this bad.

The Hawkeyes' 30.3 percent 3-point shooting this season is the worst by an Iowa team since they shot 29.0 percent in 2002-03. This is the worst long-range shooting Iowa team in 10 years.

Iowa 3-point shooting

2012-13: 30.3%

2011-12: 37.3%

2010-11: 31.4%

2009-10: 31.7%

2008-09: 36.4%

2007-08: 34.7%

2006-07: 36.1%

2005-06: 33.5%

2004-05: 37.6%

2003-04: 36.5%

2002-03: 29.0%

Iowa has shot worse than 30.0 percent from long distance in 10 of 19 games this season, and it doesn't appear to be improving - four such games were in Big Ten play, including two of the last three. Iowa shot 31.7 percent in non-conference play but is hitting an abysmal 26.8 percent of its 3-point attempts through six Big Ten games.

For a fan base that entered the season hoping to see the program's first NCAA Tournament bid since 2006, this is troubling. Troubling on the surface level because it's easy to observe and note - this is a bad perimeter shooting team. But the poor 3-point shooting also has historical significance in terms of making or not making the NCAA Tournament.

I looked at the 3-point shooting percentages of all 29 Big Ten team that made the NCAA Tournament from 2008-2012.

Worst 3-pt shooting Big Ten team to make NCAAs

2012: Ohio State (33.4%)

2011: Penn State (33.9%)

2010: Purdue (31.8%)

2009: Minnesota (32.7%)

2008: Indiana (34.9%)

Simply put, teams that shoot as poorly from 3-point range as this Iowa team does don't make the NCAA Tournament. Or at least teams from the Big Ten conference.

It's important to note that there's only a 1.5 percent difference between Iowa's shooting this year and the worst 3-point shooting Big Ten to make it from the last five years (Purdue in 2010). Iowa could perhaps see a surge of improvement and vault past that number and maybe even some of the others listed above. But after completing about two-thirds of the season, the numbers we have so far are pretty indicative of what we're going to get from the Hawkeyes.

Are there any specific factors we can look to for answers about Iowa's poor 3-point shooting this year? I found that there have been notable drop-offs in 3-point performance by three individual players. This isn't to blame these players for Iowa's shooting struggles - the Hawkeyes also lost someone who was a 41.0 percent 3-point shooter from last season in Matt Gatens.

3-point % 2012-13/2011-12

Zach McCabe: 28.8%/44.9%

Josh Oglesby: 28.8%/37.2%

Aaron White: 20.0%/27.9%

First, after getting past the anomaly that is the fact that McCabe and Oglesby are shooting identical percentages from 3 point-range this year - weird - we can see that there's been a pretty heavy drop-off for the three players listed above. The least significant, in terms of both percentage decrease and volume is with White. White only shoots about 1.3 3-pointers a game and has only attempted three over six Big Ten games this season. But he's still unlikely to knock down the 17 3-pointers he finished last season with.

Oglesby's drop-off is extremely significant for a player that is shooting 4.4 3-pointers a game - even more than the 3.5 he attempted last year when he was shooting more efficiently. He makes the same number of trifectas per game this season (1.3) as he did last year, but is needing to take practically another shot each game to get there.

McCabe's numbers are the most bizarre and the most difficult to understand. His 28.8 percent 3-point shooting is nearly the same as the 28.6 percent clip he shot as a freshman, making his 44.9 percent shooting as a sophomore stand out like a sore thumb. Based on the data and observations from games this season, I'd guess the issue has to do with shot selection. McCabe may be forcing more 3-pointers this season, as he's already attempted 52 3-pointers this year - three more than he did all of last season despite playing more minutes last year.

If I gained nothing else while doing this research, it was a stronger appreciation for the improvements Devyn Marble has made as a shooter. Marble is the only Iowa payer shooting a decent percentage (36.8) with enough quantity to make it significant (Anthony Clemmons is shooting 34.5 percent but his attempts (29) are less than half as many as Marble's 68).

Marble went from a player who had no business shooting 3-pointers as a freshman (26.8 %) to a solid 3-point shooter last year when he hit 39.3 percent of his looks. He only took 56 3-pointers all of last season though, so it's easy to find this year's 36.8 percent clip on 68 shots more impressive since he's receiving more attention and firing them off at a higher volume.

Marble has struggled in some of Iowa's biggest games - he was a combined 3 of 25 from the floor in losses to Indiana and Ohio State. Yes, Iowa likely would have suffered a different fate in both contests if Marble shot a little more efficiently, but in a weird way, it's also a compliment to Marble's importance on his team. A look at one half of Iowa basketball this year shows Marble as the only real player the team can rely on for instant offense. As a result, he's going to have some off nights. And since Iowa is so reliant on his offense, the results are not going to be favorable when he performs poorly.

Three of Marble's worst four shooting games this season resulted in losses to Wichita State, Ohio State, and Indiana. He shot 44.4 percent and 56.3 percent in losses to Michigan, and Virginia Tech, respectively, but those were blowout losses.

The numbers show that Iowa fans should appreciate Marble's broad consistency and improvement, hope other Hawkeye shooters can find their stroke and keep their fingers crossed if they're looking for the team to be dancing come March.

You can follow Jordan Garretson on Twitter here.


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