staff, December 13, 2013

You can tell a lot about an offense based on its shot selection. Does it force the ball inside? Does it take a lot of threes? The most efficient offenses will thrive on layups, dunks, and open threes.

It's still early, but we can look at shot distribution data (courtesy of to get a feel for a team's offensive tendencies.

Here's the complete data for the Big Ten, with teams sorted from least jump-shot-happy to most jump-shot-happy.

Team %shots at rim %shots 2-pt jumpers %shots 3-pointers
Indiana 53.8 19.1 27.1
Michigan St. 45.4 21.2 33.3
Ohio St. 42.1 21.5 36.4
Iowa 39.8 33.7 26.5
Purdue 37.3 34.4 28.3
Nebraska 35.3 32.5 29.9
Penn St. 34.6 28.0 37.4
Wisconsin 34.1 25.9 40.0
Northwestern 31.6 26.6 41.8
Illinois 30.6 34.9 34.5
Minnesota 28.4 32.5 39.1
Michigan 22.9 36.4 40.7

A few things stand out.

  • The current D-I average for percentage of shots at the rim is 38.3 percent, so only four Big Ten teams have been above-average at getting those looks. Given the overwhelmingly weak schedule faced thus far, this is further evidence that the Big Ten is no longer an interior-focused conference. There just aren't that many good big guys, and most teams are going with a stretch-four as opposed to a traditional power forward. Given the value of the three-point shot, this makes a lot of sense, but it manifests itself in a rather low number of interior looks.
  • The Hoosiers can't shoot, but at least they know it. Tom Crean has always been a proponent of attacking the tin, a stance that led to his first two Indiana teams getting their shots blocked more than almost anybody. This year's edition has done a great job of getting those interior looks, but the unfortunate downside to forcing the issue is that not all of those close-in shots are easy and uncontested. Indeed, the Hoosiers are making only 56 percent of those at-rim shots, well below the D-I average, and they are still getting a lot of shots blocked. That said, there are obvious side benefits to attacking the basket, and Indiana has enjoyed a steady diet of free throws and offensive rebounds. For this roster, eschewing the jump shot is a sound decision.
  • Several teams are taking too many mid-range jumpers, but the worst offender has been Michigan. To some extent, this is just a byproduct of John Beilein's offensive approach (his teams are always low in this measure), but it's troubling to see the Wolverines getting just 23 percent of their shots at the rim given the weakness of their schedule. That number doesn't figure to go up as Michigan faces better defenses. Even Mitch McGary, who has a physical advantage almost every time he's on the court, has dedicated nearly 60 percent of his attempts to jump shots. That's up from 50 percent last season.
  • Penn State has little in the way of post scorers, but the Nittany Lions illustrate how a good backcourt can still get inside looks for its team. Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill are quite good at driving to the rim, and that results in close-in shots for both them and their teammates. Frazier leads the conference in assist rate, and 38 percent of his dimes are dropped on shots at the rim.
  • Northwestern is taking a ton of threes, and the Wildcats are making them too (34 percent). So why is their offense so bad? The short answer is "everything else." Northwestern can't get anything inside – only seven D-I teams get their shot blocked more than the Wildcats – and offensive rebounds are rare. Combine all that with a mediocre turnover rate, and you've got an offense that can hurt you from three but can't really hurt you in a greater sense.

After a quiet week, the weekend brings the conference back to full action, starting with the very interesting Iowa at Iowa State matchup this evening. Both teams have great offenses, and both teams like to shoot it quickly. This one should be high-octane and fun to watch, kicking off a weekend of intriguing games involving Big Ten teams.