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By the numbers: the better (shooting) team lost

A look at the Big East and which teams pulled out wins despite being outshot from the floor

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Providence vs North Carolina
Were these guys just really lucky last year?
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Coaches often say, slumped in front of a microphone and despondent after their team's loss and thinking about how the performance could be improved, that their squad just "has to make shots".

And it's true. In college basketball, scoring is not the only thing that determines a winner of a game - but it is the main determinant of winners and losers.


While looking at the effect of some of the players on St. John's and thinking about shooting, I decided to run some numbers on how well Big East teams shot - and whether shooting better than the other team equaled a win.

What I found will ASTOUND YOU. Or if not, what I found from a quick look at last year's Big East, is that certain teams really bucked the trend and won shooting poorly. But other teams could outscore their opponents and still come away with the L.

First, as an explanation: one of the benefits of effective Field Goal Percentage statistic is that your field goal percentage (shots made divided by shots attempted) is normalized to account for the effect of making three-pointers. So, if one team shoots 30/60 and another team shoots 30/60, but one team shoots only three-pointers and the other team shoots only two-pointers, that score line would be 90-60.

Make sense?

So I looked at the effective FG% for each team in the Big East in 2016, for each game, and tallied how many games the team played where the opponent had a better eFG% but the Big East team STILL won... and how many times the Big East team lost despite outshooting the opponent.

I made the table sortable, because you might want to look at this through different angles.

Team Overall wins Won but shot worse Lost but shot better Pct of games won while shooting worse
Providence 24 10 0 0.417
Butler 22 5 1 0.227
Seton Hall 25 5 1 0.200
Marquette 20 4 4 0.200
Xavier 28 5 0 0.179
St. John's 8 1 4 0.125
Villanova 35 4 0 0.114
DePaul 9 1 1 0.111
Creighton 20 2 2 0.100
Georgetown 15 1 7 0.067

Some notes (not takeaways. I didn't dig deep enough for real "takeaways", i.e., how teams should play going forward):

1- Providence sure pulled a lot of games out of somewhere. And the feel for them at the end of last season was that they definitely lucked into some wins. But one thing the Friars consistently did in those wins is find more points at the free throw line than their opponents. Thee three biggest shooting-discrepancy games:

Providence eFG%
Opponent eFG%
Percentage difference
Harvard (76-64 W)
Evansville (74-64 W)
USC (70-69 W)

Providence, by the way, had the second-worst offense from the field in the Big East (to St. John’s). Perhaps they defend well when it counts - and are well-coached. (Given that two players have left for the NBA, some regression may be in order if they continue to shoot like last season.)

2- Butler pulled some wins out - but their shtick was incredibly low turnover rates, in the single digits (that's really good - gave themselves a chance to score on every possession). Butler managed to beat Cincinnati while shooting an effective FG% of 47.7% but giving up 58% shooting to the Bearcats. From the Bearcats' official site: "the stat that really mattered was a 16-5 edge that Butler had in points off turnovers."

3 - Seton Hall used strong offensive rebounding (Angel Delgado + crew) and low turnovers in their wins where they shot worse from the field.

4- Marquette outshot DePaul by quite a bit (54.8% in eFG to 42.1%)... and lost by a point. Offensive rebounding by DePaul and few extra turnovers were the key in that one-point loss. The loss against Villanova found the Eagles abused on the boards, while the two other losses saw Marquette unable to force turnovers. The differences in the wins were close, and Marquette found St. John's harder to guard on two occasions than the rest of the Big East. By a lot.

5- Xavier's offensive rebounding (i.e., more chances to score) was a big factor in their five wins while shooting worse than their opponent.

6- Villanova was blown out once (twice if you consider the 11-point loss to Virginia) but opponents rarely shot better than they did. Kansas and St. John's did, but Villanova pulled out wins by forcing turnovers and getting to the free throw line.

7- DePaul enjoyed Marquette's ability to lose games while shooting better than opponents. Against Seton Hall, they lost a close game while giving up offensive rebounds and a few more free throws to hold off a late DePaul charge, but that was close.

8- Creighton knocked off Marquette and Georgetown while being outshot from the field by forcing turnovers and dominating the defensive glass. But in a game against Arizona State and a game against Providence, the opponent's free throw and rebounding advantages held the lead.

And then there is Georgetown and St. John's.

The two teams are the only Big East squads to lose when they outshot the opponent more than they won while shooting worse. Implicit in that statement is the idea that both were teams that lacked a certain something.

Georgetown allowed opponents to rebound very well on both ends, a surprise for such a large team with two true guards on the roster.

For St. John's, turnovers, a lack of free throw attempts relative to the opponent, and some terrible defensive rebounding at Villanova contributed to the bigger losses despite a solid shooting discrepancy.

When a team loses while outshooting an opponent, is that a sign of a team that just doesn’t do anything well? Is it an indication of immaturity? Is it just a random occurrence in a bad year?

What do you take from these numbers? Randomness? A sense of team toughness? Something else?