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Shot Selection vs. Shooting Ability: How do the Hoos stack up?

Our friends from Fifth Factor Plots help us get way in the statistical weeds.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

The Virginia men’s basketball team finished the truncated 2019-20 season with the No. 234 offense, per KenPom’s rankings. They were 14th out of 15 in the ACC on the offensive end, and struggled immensely with shooting with an eFG% of 46.9% (291 of 353) and 3P% of 30.3% (311 of 353). That’s not great, for those of you keeping track at home.

Kihei Clark led the team in three-point shooting at 37.5%, followed by Tomas Woldetensae at 36.1%. Only Mamadi Diakite (13.7 points per game) and Clark (10.8 points) averaged double-digit scoring for the season, and as a team the Hoos averaged just 57 points per game.

In spite of their offensive woes, the Virginia defense was lockdown, and a second-half surge saw the team win eight-straight games to close the season before the coronavirus shut everything down.

This season is a different story. The Cavaliers are currently No. 10 in offensive efficiency, per KenPom, and first in the ACC. They’re eighth nationally in eFG% at 58.6%, and 10th in 2P% at 59.1%. As a team, Virginia is shooting 38.5% from three (good for 28th in the country), led by Trey Murphy’s 52% mark from beyond the ark. As of January 22, Virginia has four players — Sam Hauser, Jay Huff, Murphy, and Clark — that are averaging at least 10 points per game.

It’s not just that Virginia is shooting well. Our friends over at Fifth Factor Plots, a Twitter account that uses various statistical inputs (including Bart Torvik) to create college basketball graphs, recently started looking at which teams have good shooters and which teams take good shots.

If you look at the first graph, Virginia — back in early January — was right on the line for good shots, but in the positive for good shooters. We reached out to Fifth Factor Plots for some more Virginia-related information, and it’s interesting to dig into.

Some of the data is tough to parse out due to some teams having played more games, and not all the games have been plotted.

Here’s how the ACC breaks out as of January 21:

Fifth Factor Plots

As you can see, Virginia clearly has some of the best shooters in the ACC, and are taking net positive shots. When considering what a “good shot” is, Fifth Factor Plot gets a little math-y but explains it as, “if you made an average NCAA team shoot 100 shots at the shot selection profile of the player/team in question, how many points would they score?” The idea is to take the player/team out of the equation and look at the efficiency of the shots.

Against Clemson, Virginia went 19-for-29 from two (66%) and 15-for-27 (56%) from three. Here’s what those shots looked like:


You can see that the majority of their shots were either in the lane or from beyond the arc, with around eight shots being what you would call “a long two.” For simplicity’s sake, the ideal would be primarily dunks/layups (high-percentage attempts) with the rest of the shots three-pointers. Virginia does pretty well with that, as you can see from the ACC Team Shot Selection graph and the shot chart from the Clemson matchup.

So how does it look if you break out Virginia’s shot selections by the games that have been charted?

Fifth Factor Plots

Oh hey, look at that. Unsurprisingly, as the shot selection improves, the eFG tends to improve. When you can neither make shots, nor are you shooting smart shots, bad things happen! In Virginia’s loss to San Francisco back in November, the Cavaliers went 18-for-39 (46%) from two, and 3-for-12 (25%) from three. If you remember, they settled for a lot of tough and contested twos. Here’s the shot chart from that game:


So many long twos.

Other factors come into play in these games — like turnover rate and opponent’s shooting — but this provides an interesting look at trends and where Virginia can improve or succeed.

How does it all break down within the team? Let’s take a look:

Fifth Factor Plots

You’ll see the shot selection measurement on the Y axis, with the player’s offensive efficiency on the X axis. Keep in mind, the sample sizes vary for each player, so don’t read too much into Woldetensae and Casey Morsell falling in the “bad shooters, bad shots” quadrant as both have shown improved offensive performance in recent games.

It isn’t surprising to see Huff and Murphy way up in the top corner with the way they have played so far this season, but it is nice to see Reece Beekman up there. Sam Hauser is down in the “good shooter, bad shots” corner, but his recent offensive performance and historical shooting stats may indicate that he could move into the upper right quadrant.

The Cavaliers are 5-0 in ACC play and host Georgia Tech on Saturday night. The game is set to tip off at 8pm and will be broadcast on the ACC Network.