*Every Thursday, we’ll look at tempo-free numbers, and what they can tell us about OVC teams. This week, we’re looking to a common complaint about the Cougars offense.*

The 2-9 Cougars are one of the more interesting cases in the OVC. Unlike many other sub .500 teams, the Cougars have an above-average offense, ranking fifth in the OVC in offensive points per possession. But as the losses pile up, many people are looking for answers.

It’s obvious to say the defense is bad, because it is. Statistically, the Cougars are dead last in the OVC in defensive efficiency, and is a major contributor to their slow start. But there’s also been quite a lot of criticism of their offense by the fans, including the oft made complaint the Cougars are too three-point oriented.

But do the numbers back up that claim? Not especially.

SIU is shooting 33.8% from three-point range on the year, and 51.1% on shots from inside the arc. If those numbers remained consistent, an average three-point attempt would be worth just over one point, as would an average shot inside the arc, making the two close to equal.

But there are two other factors that play into it as well: offensive rebounding and free-throws. While not exclusive to shots taken inside, it’s well known that you’re much more likely to get fouled on a shot inside the paint than you are on a three-point shot, and the same holds true for your chances at a offensive rebound, although the difference is likely less profound.

Without exact numbers knowing how many three-point shots led to fouls, or how many two-point shots led to offensive rebounds, there’s no way of knowing the exact benefits of shooting more from the interior. But, using the two assumptions above as a starting point, we can see there is very likely an advantage to the Cougars taking fewer three-point shots.

Let’s start by looking at free-throws alone, and how the points-per-possessions compared for three-point shots and two-point shots.

FT Split (% on 3-pt plays/2-pt plays) | 3-Point PPP | 2-point PPP |
---|---|---|

20/80 | 1.063 | 1.111 |

30/70 | 1.082 | 1.100 |

35/65 | 1.091 | 1.096 |

40/60 | 1.100 | 1.090 |

50/50 | 1.111 | 1.067 |

Obviously, free-throw shooting increases points-per-possession when you’re shooting well from the line. With no other factors present, if 65% or more of SIUE’s free-throws are coming off of two-point attempts, then it’s more effective to shoot two-pointers that three’s for this team. Of course, this analysis doesn’t include free-throw shots that come from off-the-ball fouls, but since the team’s free-throw percentage shouldn’t change regardless of how they get to the line, it’s really not a factor in the math.

Offensive rebounding has a similar effect on points-per-possession. As stated above, without knowing any other data, a two-point attempt is worth slightly more (1.022) than a three-point attempt, (1.014) and we know that SIUE shoots a three-point shot 36.4% of the time. Using the averages, and again, assuming they don’t change throughout the year, we can also extrapolate how points-per-possession change due to offensive rebounding alone, using the Cougars average of 10.45 offensive rebounds per game.

FT Split (% on 3-pt plays/2-pt plays) | 3-Point PPP | 2-point PPP |
---|---|---|

20/80 | 1.063 | 1.111 |

30/70 | 1.082 | 1.100 |

35/65 | 1.091 | 1.096 |

40/60 | 1.100 | 1.090 |

50/50 | 1.111 | 1.067 |

Once again, the magic number is about 65. If more than 65% of SIUE’s offensive rebounds come off two-point shots versus three-point shots, and all other factors being equal, their offensive production is higher on shots inside the arc then they are for shots outside the arc.

Without knowing the two variables described above (exactly how many two-point attempts lead to free-throws, and how many offensive rebounds come off of three-points shots) it’s hard to narrow down the exact improvement to SIUE’s offense by attacking more inside.

At the most extreme options on the charts above (assuming 80% of SIUE’s free-throws and 80% of their offensive rebounds come off of two-point attempts) the difference is about .074 points a possession. So, using these numbers, SIUE would need to reduce their three-point attempts by about 15% to see any discernible difference in offensive efficiency in a single game.

There are other factors that also have an impact. Where, and how, do turnovers occur. Do missed three-point shots lead to more transition points for their opponents? Do guards missing three’s hit free-throws at a higher percentage than forward’s missing two’s. Would offensive rebounding increase if more shots were taken inside. Without having watched and tracking these kind of statistics, we’ll never get the full picture through numbers alone.

But from the numbers we have, we can conclude that barring a *significant* impact from unknown factors, the Cougars are fairly evenly efficient on offense from outside as they are on the inside.

Now they just need fix that defense.