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Why doesn't South Carolina take more 3s?

In its first six games, South Carolina has shot woefully from the inside. So why does it do it so often?

Bruce Ellington drives the line for a two-point attempt, a shot he and his teammates have stressed this season.
Bruce Ellington drives the line for a two-point attempt, a shot he and his teammates have stressed this season.
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

John Gasaway wrote an interesting article earlier this year unveiling something he called the Easy Intrusive Coach Detector, described as "a fool-proof way to determine whether your head coach is carrying this whole authority thing to an extreme and actively harming the performance of his offense."

The formula is simple - (2P% - 3P%) x 3PA%. To be clear, 2P% is your field goal percentage on two-point attempts (2PAs), 3P% is your field goal percentage on three-point attempts (3PAs), and 3PA% is the percentage of field goals you shoot from three-point range.

Gasaway never truly gives us parameters for understanding what constitutes "too much" meddling, but he sets a floor - the 2007 Texas A&M Aggies, led by Billy Gillispie. That team played great offense (ranked 7th by Ken Pomeroy), but had an interesting quirk - while their 3P% was 42.2% (third in the nation), they only posted a 192 in Gasaway's rating system. This occurred because although they shot well from 2P% (52.8%), they simply didn't take 3s despite being very good at hitting them - their 28.0% 3PA% rated 280th in Division I that season.

So if 192 is the floor, where does Carolina sit thus far this season? Simple math gives us the answer: (43.9 - 34.7) x 22.9 = 211. So Martin's barely over the Gillispie line, but only just. And we certainly aren't putting the seventh best offense in the country on the floor right now.

Here's one thing I do think that Gasaway misses in this analysis - FTR. Free throw rate (FTA/FGA, measuring opportunities created from the foul line controlled for pace and turnovers). That A&M team also excellent at getting to the free throw line (an FTR of 41.3%, or 64th in the nation), and it's clear from research that teams don't get to the foul line often by taking lots of 3s. So by taking more 3PAs, South Carolina would hurt its current FTR of 48.5%, which is 60th in the nation. Free throws are just as valid a way of scoring as any other method, and if decreasing your 3PA% increases your FTR% by enough points to compensate, then it's a worthwhile offensive strategy.

I don't pretend to have the answer to whether South Carolina is currently deploying the right strategy on this front. What is interesting is that for as poorly as the Gamecocks shoot from the field, they do a nice job stopping other teams, with a defensive eFG of 45.6% (67th in NCAA).

The issue is that their FTRs are high on both the offensive - 48.5% (60th in the country) - and defensive - 59.2% (336th in the country) - ends of the floor, which leaves them at the mercy of the other team's ability to knock down free throws. That's killed them particularly in games against Clemson and Manhattan, where the winning margin was determined almost entirely by differences in FTMs between the teams (though in the Clemson game, that was also driven in part by the Tigers 26-18 advantage in FTAs, which of course means they're more likely to have more FTMs).

Overall, this isn't a piece that concludes that what South Carolina is doing is right or wrong. The basic takeaway is that so far, this has been a team that's decided to live and die by its 2P% and FT%, despite the fact that it doesn't shoot either of those particularly well. If the Gamecocks can't improve in those areas, it may be time for Coach Martin to consider finding out if his guys can take (and make) more shots from beyond the arc.