The NCAA 3-point arc is 22-feet and 1.75 inches from the basket. The Michigan men’s basketball team made it look like it was double that on Tuesday night.
In the Wolverines’ 67-65 loss to Seton Hall, they shot just 3-for-15 from beyond the arc. This measly 20% efficiency was a large contributor to Michigan’s eventual downfall, stalling its offense multiple times throughout the game. Its shooting from inside the 3-point line wasn’t as deficient, but it wasn’t stellar enough to make up for the team’s perimeter woes.
“I feel like it’s one of those days,” graduate transfer guard DeVante’ Jones said about the team’s shooting performance.
And perhaps that’s all it was — an off day. Every team has them, in basketball especially, and oftentimes teams just shrug them off, learn something and keep moving.
But too many ‘off days’ means there is more at play than just outliers and bad performances. Just three games in, it’s impossible to make a judgement on whether Michigan just had “one of those days,” or whether it might have actual shooting problems.
Instead, it might be better to measure the frequency of these ‘off days’ for teams who were good, and draw the line on just how many a team can afford while still finding success.
First, have a look at last season’s NCAA Champions, Baylor. The Daily analyzed how the team performed shooting-wise and put games into one of three categories: ‘good,’ ‘mid,’ and ‘off day.’ The criteria for each category depended on whether Baylor’s field goal percentage and 3-point percentage in a game was above or below the national average for the 2020-21 season. If both were above, it was ‘good,’ one above and one below, it was ‘mid,’ and both below, it was an ‘off day.’
The averages for the NCAA last season were 44.0% and 33.8% for field goal and 3-point percentage, respectively. The Bears had a total of four ‘off days’ all season, losing two — their only two losses on the season. Come tournament time, the Bears finished the season strong. They had just one ‘off day’ in the tournament, a 79-55 win over Hartford in the round of 64. In the Elite Eight, Final Four and National Championship game, Baylor finished with three-straight ‘good’ games.
While the Bears are a perfect example of how consistency and avoiding ‘off days’ can bring success, they also found a way to win when they were underperforming, a talent most teams don’t have.
Take Wolverines’ 2020-21 roster, for example. The Big Ten regular season champions and Elite Eight finishers were objectively a very capable and talented team. Similar to Baylor, Michigan was fantastic at limiting the amount of ‘off days’ that it had. Unlike the Bears, though, the Wolverines could not overcome a single one of them. Michigan had five games where both its field goal percentage and 3-point percentage were below the national average. It lost all five.
Those were the only five losses the Wolverines had all season, including the defeats that knocked them out of both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
On the other end of the spectrum is the 2017-18 Michigan team that made it to the National Championship before falling to Villanova. That season, the Wolverines were not good at keeping their efficiency above the national average. Thirteen times that year Michigan had an ‘off day,’ nearly enough to the point where ‘off day’ isn’t an appropriate way to describe them.
Instead, the Wolverines found a way to win games while facing adversity. In ‘off days,’ Michigan had a 61.5% winning percentage, and four out of six of its games in the NCAA tournament fell in the ‘off day’ category. Sometimes it was because the other team also shot poorly, sometimes the Wolverines played solid defense. Sometimes it came in a miraculous fashion, like Jordan Poole’s buzzer-beater over Houston. Either way, they found a way to win.
Based on last season’s averages, Michigan had an ‘off day’ this Tuesday against Seton Hall. It was close, but the Wolverines couldn’t hold on to their lead long enough to finish the Pirates off. It’s early, and this team has enough talent to go far, but when the next time the shots aren’t falling rolls around, there are two paths for Michigan to survive:
Pull it together and shoot better or find another way to win in the face of adversity.