When Coach Mack arrived on campus one of the major selling points for Cards fans everywhere was the offensive strategies he was bringing with him in his back pocket. Sure, we didn’t forget the importance of defensive intensity that had been beaten into our skulls the last two decades, but the thought of dropping 80+ on teams consistently made me want to draw hearts in a notebook with Mack’s initials promptly displayed in the center (with a real manly color like black, though). For the previous ten seasons at Xavier six times Coach Mack fielded a team that finished the season better than Louisville from an offensive efficiency standpoint. While that’s impressive in its own right let’s not forgot that 2009-2018 Louisville basketball was no joke, in fact they finished in the Top 20 in KenPom’s rankings 8 of those 10 seasons. So could that great offense translate to the “big stage”? Could he produce similar results against a non-conference schedule considered one of the toughest in the nation and an ACC slate that would test even the strongest of teams? More than halfway through the season there is plenty to be encouraged by.
At the end of 2018 one of the biggest question marks for the coach of the future was ‘who in the world was gonna put the ball in the basket’? Mack went to work quick trying to answer that question, and while he had a few unpolished gems already in the building adding a player like Christian Cunningham has proven to be worth the investment ten times over. The addition of CC, the rejuvenation of Nwora, getting Enoch eligible, and watching Sutton turn into a full grown man before our very eyes has created a fun offense that is both putting points on the board and has Mack beating teams he likely shouldn’t be this early in the process. From last season alone the Cards have raised their overall field goal %, raised their average points per game, and are shooting better at the free throw line. Not everything is perfect, but the ball is rolling in the right direction….LET’S LOOK AT SOME NUMBERS!!!
The obvious answer for ‘who’ on the team is scoring with the most efficiency would be Jordan Nwora. The guy is shooting nearly 50% from the field and over 40% beyond the arc. He can hit from anywhere past the halfcourt stripe and has done a great job at learning to create his own shot this season. If Nwora was your answer though, you would be wrong. The real answer is one Mr. Christian Cunningham. CC is shooting over the 50% mark from the floor, over 46% from deep, and he also has 20 assists more than the next closet Card with 61 on the season already. There is no question he is the one Mack trusts to ‘stear the ship’ and he’s doing a pretty good job for a young man one year removed from playing in the Southern Conference. CC and Nwora are big, but they certainly aren’t doing things on their own though as the aforementioned Enoch and Sutton have each developed into reliable offensive threats of their own and Ryan ‘McBuckets’ can still drop in a three ball on occasion. Let’s take a look at who is putting it in the basket with some regularity…
· Nwora is actually shooting better from 3 than when he takes jump shots
· Sutton is tough around the rim, would love to see him in the post more
· CC is consistent from everywhere on the floor
· McMahon needs to improve his 3pt shooting
· Darius, when on the floor, can hit jump shots
· VJ needs to stop settling for outside shots and get in the paint
Sure, the Cards are scoring points but in a perfect world ‘when’ are they considered at their best? In what scenario does the offense score at the highest rate? According to the chart below, and to the surprise of very few, the Cards in transition are tough to stop. When UofL takes a shot less than 10 seconds after getting a rebound, forcing a steal, or after the other team scores their field goal efficiency is at 62.8%. While you might assume the transition numbers would be slightly better off a defensive rebound or after forcing a turnover the Cards are shooting it best in transition when pushing the ball back down the court after a score. While I’m not advocating for more opponent scoring it’s interesting to see that Mack is not afraid to let them go after giving up a bucket.
· No surprise the Cards shoot better around the rim than they do 2pt or 3pt shots no matter what the scenario
· Field Goal % at the rim is better on avg when in transition no matter what the scenario
· Field Goal % on jump shots is better on avg when in transition no matter what the scenario
· Field Goal % on 3pt shots is better on average when they pull the ball back out and let the clock run to setup a shot
We see who has been scoring and when in the possession they’ve been scoring but ‘where’ on the court do the Cards do the most damage? Where does each player look to get his shot and where is he taking advantage of the defense? The chart below shows the shot distribution for each player, indicating where on the floor he is shooting the ball and how often. In a perfect world this chart would align with the FG%’s above, meaning a player is taking the majority of his shots in a spot that he shots the highest percentage. The reality of course is…that ain’t happening. In fact, VJ King is the only player getting consistent minutes whose shot selection aligns with his highest FG % (at the rim).
· Enoch needs to stop settling for jumpers outside the paint and get down low with more frequency
· Sutton should probably shoot fewer threes, but statistically is hitting a decent % to stay out there
· McMahon shoots ALOT of threes. Statistically he is shooting better inside the arc, would like to see him get more 2pt attempts
· Darius is also taking too many threes, should be shot faking and creating more jumpers as he has a good first step
· VJ is scoring at a good % around the rim and is trending at getting more shots in the post
· Redding and Battaile are Three. Point. Gunners.
In a basketball world where statistics are the only thing that matter (nerds), ‘how’ do the Cards score at the highest clip and with the most efficiency? Completely ignoring the defensive side of the ball an ideal lineup would likely look something like this..
PG: Christian Cunningham (59.5% eFG)
SG: Darius Perry (55.5% eFG)
SF: Jordan Nwora (58.7% eFG)
PF: Dwayne Sutton (53.7% eFG)
C: Steven Enoch (57.0% eFG)
6th Man: Ryan McMahon (51.1% eFG)
And who would be looking to score where…
*It’s interesting to note that that player many consider the biggest ‘offensive threat’ (Nwora) doesn’t shoot the best percentage on the team at any one location on the floor, but shoots a high percentage at all four spots.
The offense isn’t perfect but Mack has them playing much better statistically on that side of the ball then we’ve seen here in the last five seasons. Getting recruits that fit his system and style of play will only increase these numbers but my man is working some magic with the roster he has right now. It should be fun to see how the Cards respond to some talented defensive teams down the stretch like Georgia Tech, Duke, and Virginia.