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Should Syracuse men’s basketball shoot fewer threes?

Probably not on the road...

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

“We’re going to take the shots when we’re open,” Tyus Battle said following the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team’s 95-91 overtime win against the Duke Blue Devils.

A quick look at Monday night’s box score shows one glaring difference between Syracuse and Duke’s statistical performances: the Orange were lights-out from beyond the three-point line shooting 44 percent on 25 attempts while Duke shot an abysmal 20.9 percent on 43 attempts. The on-brand 44 percent clip that Syracuse shot at marks the team’s second highest single game shooting percentage of the season and is 14 percentage points higher than the team’s mark for the season.

The team’s shooting performance against Duke, when juxtaposed with its 7-for-33 (21.2 percent) three-point shooting in an embarrassing loss to Georgia Tech, calls into question what this Syracuse team’s identity is on the offensive end of the floor. The Orange rank in the bottom-50 in the country in three-point shooting percentage but rank in the top half of the country in three-point attempts. The numbers only get slightly better inside the arc: Syracuse is 202nd in the country in two-point shooting percentage at 50.6 percent. These season-long numbers don’t tell the full story, though.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Home and road splits

It has become cliche for TV broadcasters to talk about how shooting in the Carrier Dome is difficult, but this Syracuse team is embodying that cliche this season. The Orange are shooting just 28 percent from the three at home as opposed to 35 percent away from the Dome. Syracuse’s best three-point shooting games have each come on the road: at Ohio State (45.8 percent), at Duke (44 percent) and at Notre Dame (41.4 percent).

It would be misleading to definitively declare Syracuse a better three-point shooting team away from home due to sample size. The Orange has taken 148 more attempts at home than it has away so far this season. It will be a trend to monitor as the season goes along, however.

Frank Howard effect?

In games with Frank Howard this season, Syracuse is shooting 33 percent which is a three percentage point increase over the team’s season-long average. Howard himself actually hurts the team’s three-point percentages as he has shot 27.6 percent from three this season. The team’s assists in games without Howard fall slightly behind the team’s marks for the season which points to Howard lifting the offense by increasing ball movement.

Interestingly enough, two of the four games at the beginning of the season came away from home and, despite the team’s success shooting the three ball away from home, Syracuse shot a combined 22 percent in those games. To have some fun with numbers here (the sample size is just three games): in games away from the Carrier Dome that Frank Howard has played in, Syracuse is shooting 43.6 percent from three.

Shot Distribution

Currently, Syracuse’s three-point shot distribution out of its major contributors is as follows.

With the exception of Marek Dolezaj, the player’s percentages of shots taken falls directly in line with their three-point shooting percentages. Oshae Brissett, whom Jim Boeheim would like to see take fewer three-point attempts, is second on the team in three-point shooting percentage at 28.8 percent. Tyus Battle is shooting 28.1 percent.

Marek Dolezaj is shooting 46.2 percent on just 13 attempts this season. Syracuse could potentially benefit from giving him some extra looks through pick-and-pop plays such as this one:

How many threes should Syracuse be taking per game?

Using Syracuse’s two-point and three-point shooting percentages, I calculated what the ideal distribution between the shots would be to maximize the team’s points. With its current percentages, Syracuse should shoot 33 percent of its field goals from three-point territory. So far this season, 41.6 percent of Syracuse’s field goals have been taken from beyond the arc.

Attempting to aim for these benchmarks on a game-to-game basis isn’t practical for coach Jim Boeheim and the team. However, being conscious of the percentages indicating the team should take fewer threes can make the team more efficient on the offensive end.

Syracuse has shot fewer than 34 percent of its shots from three in six of its games so far this season. In those games, the Orange are 5-1. That one loss came against UConn in which the Orange were without Frank Howard and the Huskies shot an absurd 57 percent from three.

Tyus Battle isn’t wrong to say that Syracuse should continue shooting threes when they are open, but the Orange could become more efficient offensively by taking fewer threes and attacking the basket.

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