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Shot Chart

More Than a Number: Minnesota's 2-Point Field Goal Shooting

01/04/2013, 8:15am CST
By J.B. Bauer

Gophers' Shooting Has Room to Improve

Offensive rebounding has been of great importance to the Gophers’ offense, but as their advantage on the glass wanes during the Big Ten schedule, it will be field goal shooting that matters most.

Rodney Williams

At the rim, Rodney Williams is nearly unstoppable. Taking a jump shot, the senior forward is a mere mortal.

Minnesota’s offense has been good enough this season to rank #14 in the nation according to With a top-20 ranked defense, numerous rankings and polls generated by both computers and humans hold the Gophers in high regard. Most say that Minnesota is around the #10 team in college basketball.


Offensive rebounding has been of great importance to the Gophers’ offense, but as Minnesota’s advantage on the glass wanes during the Big Ten schedule, it will be field goal shooting that matters most. Without improvement in the team’s effective field goal percentage, their profile will likely take on an appearance of a team that should finish the regular season around #20.


Finishing in the top 25 and a earning an invitation to the NCAA tournament would be good, but expectations are higher.


There are many angles from which Minnesota’s field goal shooting can be viewed and today we’ll just a few of them.


Minnesota’s nonconference field-goal shooting for this season and 2011-12 is summarized below. The data includes all games other than the 18 scheduled Big Ten games.















It’s true that the Gophers had a top 15 offense despite an eFG% of 50.6%. However, without an eFG% of around 52.0% or higher, I think it’ll be very difficult to remain inside the top 20 after conference play.


As conference play began for most teams across the nation, Colorado State was the only team with a better offensive efficiency but lower eFG% (49.4%) than Minnesota. The Rams get away with the low eFG% because they are very good at both limiting turnovers and offensive rebounding. The Gophers are great on the offensive boards, but they will not be good enough at taking care of the ball to offset relatively weak field goal shooting.


(Former Gopher center Colton Iverson isn’t to blame for CSU’s eFG% - he’s at 58.0%. He’s also not turning the ball over and has been a monster on the boards. Oh, and get this – he gets called for fouls about 40% less often than when he was in Minnesota.)


3-point Field Goal Shooting

The Gophers are capable of improving their 3FG% in conference play. However, their game plan (less than 28% of Minnesota’s attempts are 3FGA – the NCAA average is 33%) and lack of 3-point shooters means that putting their hopes and focus on 3FG% probably isn’t going to get them far.


Had the Gophers shot the same 35.5% this year as they did a year ago during this year’s nonconference schedule, the team’s eFG% would be 51.1% instead of 50.6%. That still would have their eFG% down 2.3% year over year.


Weaker Defenses Have Meant Better 2FG%
In 13 nonconference games this year Minnesota’s 2FG% is 51.5%. 


The high and lows for the season are not all that surprising. The best 2FG% game for the Gophers was 63.9% against South Dakota State. Not only does SDSU have the third-worst overall defense and second-worst 2FG% defense of all 13 opponents faced, but the Jackrabbits were without Nate Wolters. He was replaced with a seldom-used true freshman who played 28 minutes.


Minnesota’s worst 2FG% performance was 38.1% against North Dakota State. The Bison had the nation’s 51st best defense and their 2FG% defense is better than any other team the Gophers have played.


In 7 of 13 games, Minnesota has been above their 51.5% average. All but one of those games has come against defenses ranked between 144 and 305 (as of the beginning of Big Ten conference games) in the country. Facing top-100 defenses, the only time the Gophers have shot above 51.5% 2FG was in the Bahamas against Memphis on the strength of an incredible performance by Andre Hollins.


When shooting against weaker defenses, the Gophers have been solid from 2-point range with the exception of the final nonconference contest with Lafayette. The team shot only 46.9% 2FG, but they emptied the bench early in a blowout and it was the reserves who struggled from the field (35.7% 2FG compared to 61.9% for the starters).


There’s nothing strange about a team’s shooting being challenged more by tougher defenses, but it is concerning that Minnesota’s competition will be getting tougher when they need to improve their 2FG% from where it’s been so far this season.


In the Big Ten, only Penn State and Nebraska have defenses outside of the top 100.


Last Season’s Big Ten Field Goal Shooting
2011-12 field goal percentages for nonconference and conference games, respectively, are listed below.










Big Ten





Minnesota’s 2FG% dropped considerably in conference games and there are a number of reasons for this. A major part of it is the same issue that they’ll face this year – the defenses in the Big Ten are bigger and better than those they play against in the nonconference.


The trend of beating up on weaker defenses which has been seen in this year’s nonconference games was also present in last year’s Big Ten season. The 47.2% conference 2FG% included a solid 52.2% against defenses not in the top 100 and just 45.2% against those inside of the top 100.


Now, not all Big Ten teams see their eFG% fall in conference play. For Minnesota, their shooting has dropped in conference games for the past decade, but it’s a new year. The Gophers need to buck this trend in 2012-13.


Differences in This Year’s Nonconference vs. Last Year’s

There are many smaller differences when looking at individual players or player groupings. For example, in 2011-12, centers Ralph Sampson and Elliott Eliason combined to shoot 53% 2FG in nonconference games. This year, Mo Walker and Eliason have shot just 44% 2FG.


Many of the reserves have shot a lower 2FG% this year than last, but the relatively low amount attempts taken by these players mean that their lower 2FG% isn’t the main driver of the team’s decline in 2FG%.


If just two players – Rodney Williams and Austin Hollins – had maintained their 2FG% from last year’s nonconference, the team’s 2FG% in this season’s nonconference games would have been flat with last year.


Both Williams and Hollins have made impressive offensive contributions this season, but could they shoot the ball even better by altering their shot selection? Absolutely.


From NCAA play-by-play data, we can determine some (although limited) information on shot location. The shot data can be grouped into two types of 2-point attempts: “at the rim” (layups, tip-ins, dunks) and “jumpers” (all other 2-point attempts).


As you’d expect, a player’s field goal percentage at the rim is better than anywhere else on the floor. Therefore, the more you’re able to take shots near the basket, the better off your team will be. It’s not uncommon for a team’s FG% at the rim to be more than double that of jumpers.


Using information from and my own review of game data, I analyzed shot location data for Williams and Hollins in an attempt to better understand their lower 2FG% this year. From watching the games I had a good idea what the results would be, but this exercise provided some confirmation.


Rodney Williams and Austin Hollins

As a senior, I’d give Rodney a lot of room to make decisions and take shots that I’d be less inclined to let younger players take. However, the difference between winning and losing often comes down to a possession or two and therefore the wiser he can be with his shot selection, the better the team will be. 

The decrease in 2FG% for Williams and Hollins isn’t driven by field goal percentage by type (% of at the rim shots made and % of jumpers made, respectively), rather it’s the split of shot attempts by type (at the rim vs. jumpers).


In 2012-13 nonconference games, 57% of Rodney’s 2-point attempts were at the rim. Last season, that mark was nearly 70%.


For Austin Hollins, 37% of his 2-point attempts were at the rim during this year’s nonconference schedule. A year ago, that figure was 51%.


Both players have taken on larger roles this year with regard to shooting the ball and have been very efficient on offense, but they can be even better.


It’s easy to say, “take more shots at the rim”, but obviously a defense will try to keep the offense away from the basket. However, there have been a fair amount of long 2-point shots and other forced attempts taken by the Gophers early in the shot clock that could be deferred.


Just a couple of wise decisions to defer low percentage shots early in the shot clock can be enough to decide a basketball game.


Against Michigan State

The Spartans have allowed their opponents to make 40% of their 2-point attempts this season. Minnesota managed a strong 60% (27/45) and provided an excellent example of how beneficial earning better shots and deferring low percentage attempts can be.


At the rim    19/20
Jumpers       8/25

Rodney Williams
At the rim       5/5
Jumpers        0/6

Early in the second half the Gophers led 51-44. In a span of less than 3 minutes, Michigan State went on an 11-0 run to take a 55-51 lead. With each Spartan score, Minnesota’s shot selection seemed to get worse. Minnesota went 0/5 on their field goal attempts during the Michigan State run, and all of the shots were 2-point tries outside of the paint.


The good news for Gopher fans is that the team regained their composure and took care of business the rest of the way.

Shot selection could turn out to be the difference between a magical season and just a good one. If Minnesota continues to get to the basket like they did against Michigan State, they’ll be one of the best teams in the nation.

J.B. Bauer

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Tag(s): Gopher Basketball