Providence dropped their Big East opener to Creighton on New Year’s Eve in a game in which they gave up an uncharacteristic 13 threes, including 9 (on 15 attempts) in the second-half.
Three-point defense has been a hot topic among college coaches for years now as well as the subject of numerous statistical studies.
One such study was conducted by Ken Pomeroy, one of the leaders of college basketball advanced analytics who runs a service called KenPom.com, which has become near gospel for college coaches in recent years.
While most of Pomeroy’s work comes in numerical form, he also has a blog that he occasionally utilizes to further articulate his points or rationale.
Several years ago, his work led to a conclusion that surprised most of the coaching world – that the defense in a college game had more control over the number of threes taken by their opponent than the number that go in.
Or put another way, a better indicator of three-point defense isn’t the number of threes the opposing team makes, but the number they actually attempt.
Thus, while many look at the opposing team’s three-point percentage as an indicator of a defense’s effectiveness at defending the arc, the more telling statistic is actually the percent of the opponent’s field goal attempts which comes from behind the arc.
How does this impact the way in which we evaluate Providence’s three-point defense?
Well, the Friars are currently allowing opponents to shoot 34.8% from behind the three-point line, ranking them 208th in the country out of 353 division I schools or 59th percentile (below average).
Opponents are also attempting 38.3% of their total field goal attempts from behind the three-point line, ranking them 168th in the country or in the 48th percentile (better but still average).
Regardless of which analytical philosophy you subscribe to, what is more concrete is that Providence is having more difficulty defending the three-point line this season than they ever have under Cooley as both percentages are the highest since he arrived in Providence.
What does that mean from a practical coaching standpoint?
“I thought we over-helped on maybe five of their 13 threes, we got sucked to the ball,” Cooley said following the Creighton game.
In the days since, Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal has reported that the defensive emphasis in practice has been on defending the basketball.
It all fits together very well. The Friars need to do a better job of defending the ball and, to a man, need to be personally accountable for keeping their man in front when he has the ball because when they get beat, weak-side defenders have to rotate, leaving open shooters and creating long close-outs like we saw against Creighton.
Additionally, away from the ball, the Friars’ need to recognize when help is truly needed and do a better job of “stunting” or making a quick jab at the ball-handler (essentially faking as if they’re going to help) only to never actually leave the spot-up shooters.
Finally, they need to be locked in on these principals from the start because as Creighton showed, once you allow a good shooting team to get into a good rhythm by taking open shots, they then become increasingly capable of making tough ones.
Villanova presents a similar challenge. They might not be quite as accurate from behind the arc as Creighton (the Bluejays are currently 4th in the country at 43.2% shooting from three while Villanova shoots 34.9%) but they’re even more reliant on threes as part of their total offense. In fact, they currently rank fourth in the country in terms the percentage of their shots that come from behind the arc.
In other words, the PC Friars need to learn from their mistakes and do a better job of defending the arc on Saturday then they did on Wednesday if they want to avoid starting Big East play with an 0-2 record.