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Rutgers Men's Basketball: Shooting the Three Is a Major Problem

William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

There are many reasons why the Rutgers men's basketball team is having an historically bad season. They are potentially on their way to the fewest wins for the program since 1987-1988, when they went 7-22 under head coach Craig Littlepage. Injuries have been a factor, with frontcourt players Deshawn Freeman, Ibrahima Diallo and Shaq Doorson out for the season and having missed the majority of games played. Their defense is atrocious and they have allowed an average of 89.6 points in seven conference games so far. Rutgers is losing the rebounding battle by more than 17 per game in conference play.  However, another major problem and one that puts Rutgers at a major disadvantage now and moving forward, is they are a terrible three-point shooting team.

Rutgers is tied for 299th nationally out of 351 Division I teams in three-point shooting percentage at 31.4%, which is 3% below the national average. They are tied for 312th in attempts and tied for 326th in makes. Even worse, they are tied 335th for makes per game at 5.0. They have actually been even worse in conference action, shooting just 27.8% in seven Big Ten games. In addition, in conference play they have made only 32 from long range, but have allowed almost double that to their opponents, who have made 62 three-point shots in seven conference games.

That's a difference of 90 points in seven conference games, an average of 13 points they score less than their opponents from behind the three-point arc. With Rutgers just 290th nationally in points scored per game with 67.9, Rutgers can't keep up with their opponents, in part because they don't have the three-point shot as a weapon. They are allowing opponents to outshoot them from three-point range by a wide margin. Only 21.9% of Rutgers points come from three-point range, which ranks 326th according to KenPom ratings.

Not only does every other Big Ten team shoot the three-point shot more than Rutgers, every team shoots it at a better percentage for the season. It's a recipe for disaster and not what head coach Eddie Jordan thought would be the case at the start of the season. This is what he had to say at Big Ten media day in October:

"Bishop is not going to be known to be a 3-point scorer for us. He's more of a penetrator and finish at the rim and keep us organized at the offense. But Mike Williams Justin Goode, Corey Sanders, I want those guys to jack them up, we want them to maximize their open 3s. Mike has been looking very well, very good in practice. He's played well. He's one of our toughest defenders and probably the toughest defender that we have. I know he had a reputation coming out of New York as a top shooter, but you know, he confessed he was nervous as a freshman."

Unfortunately, Rutgers hasn't seen most of their shooters perform at an acceptable level. Let's take a look at how the primary three-point shooters have done this season.  It isn't all bad, but the shot distribution is part of the problem.

Bishop Daniels

Eddie specifically mentioned that Daniels is not a strong three-point shooter and that his strength is getting to the rim.  That has been the case his entire career at Rutgers and this season he is shooting 7 for 25 from long range, just 28%. He is only 5th on the team in attempts, so he hasn't been a major reason why the team is shooting so poorly from deep.  However, he has taken some bad three's at times and has proven he really shouldn't be shooting behind the arc, as it mostly hurts the team when he does. After shooting 0-3 against Nebraska, he is starting to learn and has shot just one three-pointer in each of the last three games, making one.

Corey Sanders

Sanders had been slighty above average for the season from long range before a bad shooting performance against Iowa on Thursday. Sanders leads the team with 30 three-pointers and averages 1.6 makes per game, despite being second on the team in three-point attempts, averaging 4.6 attempts per game. His three-point average of 34.1% ranks him 42nd in the Big Ten. Sanders is a bit streaky from long range, as he has taken three or more attempts in sixteen games this season.  He has made multiple threes in eight of those sixteen games.  In conference play, he has gone 3-7 against Indiana, 3-5 against Maryland, and 4-8 against Ohio State.  On the flip side, Sanders has gone 0-4 against Wisconsin, 0-5 against Nebraska, and 0-6 against Iowa. Overall, Sanders has ability from long range and while he can improve his shot selection at times, he is a legitimate threat from behind the arc.

Mike Williams

In preseason, Eddie Jordan mentioned Williams let his nerves affect him at times during his freshman season. Unfortunately, his success from long range hasn't changed much in his sophomore season and he has continued to fail to live up to his reputation as a top shooter. Williams leads the team with 98 three-point attempts, averaging 4.9 attempts per game. The problem is he is only averaging 27.6% from behind the three-point line, after shooting just 24% as a freshman. The fact that he takes more three's than anyone on the team, but is just fifth percentage wise in shooting them is a major problem.  I know good shooters are supposed to keep shooting through slumps, but we are going on a two season slump here. Before shooting 3-8 from long range against Iowa, Williams had shot a combined 2-15 against Nebraska, Ohio State, and Purdue. The frustrating thing is Williams is missing open looks, with the late miss against Monmouth a lost opportunity to tie that game. Something has to change, as his lack of efficiency from three-point range is seriously hurting this team. I personally like Mike's overall game with his defense and toughness, but there is no denying his shooting has been a problem.

Omari Grier

Grier is the most established three-point shooter on the roster, averaging 34.3% from three-point range in his career, after three seasons at Florida Atlantic and Bradley.  His lack of impact in the first ten games was disappointing, as he only scored 28 points total, had two games with just one shot, two games with zero shots and he didn't play per coaches decision against St. John's.  Finally, Grier scored 9 points against Monmouth, starting a trend that Grier has scored at least that amount or more in seven of the last ten games. While Grier has proven he can score from multiple spots, he has been under utilized from behind the three-point line.  He showed his ability in back to back games against UMass-Lowell and Indiana, shooting 9-13 from three-point range. Good shooters need shots to get into rhythm and Grier is not getting enough opportunities. He has shot 1-2 from behind the arc in games against Clemson, Seton Hall, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Iowa. That isn't enough looks for him from deep. Grier is shooting 43.9% for the season and is 13th in the Big Ten in three-point shooting percentage. It's time to make Grier a priority behind the arc.

Justin Goode

Goode was labeled the best shooter in the freshman class, but he has failed to live up to expectations so far. In fairness, Goode has been thrown in the fire a bit this season out of necessity due to a lack of depth from the injuries to the roster.  However, Goode has been tentative and at times reluctant to take open looks.  When he is guarded, Goode hasn't been able to create his own shot. Against Ohio State, Goode played 29 minutes and didn't take one shot the entire game. While Goode has been a good passer and doesn't make a lot of mistakes, Rutgers desperately needs him to fill a void from three-point range. Unfortunately, when he has shot from long range, he hasn't been very good, making just 7 of 28 attempts this season, just 25% for the season. Goode can make a major impact from three-point range and needs to focus on making an impact from there when he is on the court.

Jonathan Laurent

Laurent is slasher to the rim by nature and not a major deep threat.  He has made 5 of 18 attempts from three-point range for just 27.8% on the season.  However, Laurent is proving to be a heady player, as he has shot just once behind the arc in his last six games played.  He is learning to focus on his strengths, and after missing four games due to a concussion, went right back to attacking the rim against Iowa.  Laurent has a bright future and perhaps as his game develops, he can work on his long range game.  For now, he is focusing on getting to the rim and that makes Rutgers a better team.

Now What?

Rutgers lack of efficiency from three-point range is a problem, compounded by the fact they are not efficient from two-point range either.  They are tied for 295th with 2 point FG % at 45.8%. They are 315th for points per shot at 1.15 and adjusted field goal percentage is just .461%, tied for 313th. Their shot selection and lack of finishing on offense has been a major reason why this season has been a disaster. Their KenPom offensive efficiency ratings are 301st for adjusted and 311th for raw.  Remember, this is out of 351 teams.

Rutgers needs to be smarter on offense and showed some signs of doing so against Iowa.  This season they have forced too many shots, especially from the perimeter.  They are a very bad three-point shooting team because they take too many contested shots, they miss open looks when they have them, and their shot distribution is skewed incorrectly.  Mike Williams is first in attempts but fifth in three-point percentage, while Omari Grier is first in three-point percentage but just third in attempts, taking 54 less shots than Williams.

As for the future, Rutgers secured a commitment yesterday of Ohio combo guard Maishe Dailey, who was lighting it up from long range last night.  That is encouraging, because with Grier set to graduate after the season, Rutgers desperately needs more shooters.  Upsets happen in college basketball a lot of the time because the underdog team gets hot from three-point range.  Rutgers hasn't shown they have that ability to that collectively as a team, putting them at a severe disadvantage before they walk on the court.  Something has to change from behind the arc before Rutgers can be competitive in the Big Ten.