Monday, December 22, 2008

Can This Gang Shoot Straight?

Resolved: Idaho State is a good shooting basketball team. Discuss.

There is a rather spirited (and sometimes R-rated) debate raging on the Bengal message board these days about the Idaho State men's basketball team's offensive strategy. Let me state right now for the record: I'm no basketball coach, and I won't even venture an opinion on whether the Bengals' offensive sets are good, bad or indifferent. A more fundamental question for me, then, is this: Is Idaho State a "good (bad) shooting" basketball team?

I think the answer is, "maybe." On both counts.

I'm a real believer in the axiom, "you are what you are." When you recruit players out of high school or junior college, you can pretty much look at their statistics on that level and understand what you are getting. For example, a kid who shoots 40 percent from the floor in high school, no matter how many points he scores per game, is probably not going to be a great percentage shooter in college. A player who shoots 60 percent from the floor, meanwhile, is probably going to shoot a fairly high percentage in college -- whether that's because he's a naturally good shooter, or because he knows his limitations and rarely puts up shots outside his range.

So in debating in my own mind whether Idaho State is a "good," "bad" or average shooting team, I went back to the Bengals' "body of work," if you will, to see what their individual histories can tell us. And surprisingly, given the Bengals' lackluster 42 percent shooting as a team, what I found is that many of the Bengals -- Amorrow Morgan, Lucas Steijn, Demetrius Monroe and Matt Stucki -- are shooting right at, or better than their career numbers. In addition, newcomer Deividas Busma is making 55 percent of his field goal attempts, which is certainly a positive contribution to that team shooting percentage.

That leads me, then, to three players who are taking a significant number of shots, and missing them at rates far above what their shooting history would indicate: Austin Kilpatrick (above), Donnie Carson and Kal Bay. A-K has been the most baffling case so far this season. A career 37 percent shooter from 3-point range (including 44 percent as a true freshman), the 6-5 junior has made only 5 of 24 bombs (21 percent) so far this season. His 1 for 6 performance against Utah State Saturday night was particularly telling, because the Aggies outscored ISU 27-9 from beyond the arc. A-K had several wide open looks from three, but couldn't get much to fall.

Perhaps most troubling about A-K's shooting is the fact that, after that outstanding freshman campaign, his three-point shooting percentage has consistently dropped -- to 35 percent last year, and, as noted, to 21 this season. He was bothered by vision problems last year, but reportedly went to contacts to resolve the issue this season. The longer 3-point line wouldn't seem to really impact Kilpatrick, because he frequently drops his bombs from well beyond the arc anyway. A sprained ankle and an early reduction in playing time this season may have contributed to A-K's struggles, but if you believe "history," at some point he should come out of this prolonged shooting slump.

Carson, meanwhile, is more of a mid-range jumper guy. A career 38 percent shooter, that is misleading because this year's 18 for 64 performance (28 percent) has really dragged down his overall percentage. Last year, the junior from Detroit made 42 percent of his shots. Which Donnie is for real -- this year's or last? Again, if you believe in past performance, Carson should be in for better times ahead.

Finally, we have the case of Bay, the 6-1 junior college transfer who started his career at Colorado. In his freshman season as a Buffalo, Bay made only 34 percent of his shots from the field overall, but 36 percent from three-point range. He is well below both those numbers as a Bengal -- 27 percent from the field, 24 from beyond the arc. Is the longer three-point line affecting Bay? What about the uncertainly of his role on the team, which has bounced back and forth from starting PG to SG, to a role off the bench? Those are all theories, but the bottom line is that we would expect Kal to settle into a role and shoot much better than he has through the first third of the season.

Again, looking at history, you'd have to say this year's Bengal team is only moderately "underperforming" its immediate predecessors. Joe O'Brien's two previous ISU incarnations hit 44 percent from the field, 39 percent from 3; and 43 percent and 31 percent, respectively. This year's numbers: 42 percent from the floor, 30 percent from 3.

One consistent factor in shooting this year has been how integral Matt Stucki is to the Bengals' success from 3-point range: ISU has been over 30 percent as a team seven times, and Stucki is
13 for 27 (48 percent) in those games. Clearly, the Bengals need A-K and Bay to start providing more consistent support to Stucki in the long-range shooting area. If they both start finding their rhythm, and if Monroe (60 percent). Steijn (55 percent), and Busma (55) continue to shoot well as they get more touches against smaller Big Sky teams, I can see the Bengals getting into that 45 to 47 percent range they need to win games. That won't necessarily make ISU a "good shooting" team, but in Big Sky Conference competition, it might be "good enough."
--Brad B.

And thanks for being a Bengal fan -- it ain't always easy, but it's always fun.


tuffgong said...

Brad, your posts are freakin money... Keep them comin..! Thanks for all you do!

idaho said...

Thanks, tuff, I appreciate Frank giving me this forum. It's been fun.

--Brad B.