Monday, January 28, 2013

Northern Illinois's Shooting Goes South

Northern Illinois University's men's basketball team got a lot of attention this past Saturday -- and not the kind that a team covets. The Huskies lost to Eastern Michigan by a 42-25 score. The score alone conveys NIU's offensive woes, but the details are even worse:
  • Only four points scored in the first half.
  • Only one shot from the floor made in 31 attempts in the first half.
  • Only one three-point shot made in the entire contest out of 33 attempts.
I had not followed Northern Illinois at all this season, before Saturday's game. I was therefore curious whether the horrendous shooting against Eastern Michigan was just a "one-off" by an otherwise good shooting team, or part of a pattern this season. As shown in the following chart that I made from NIU's game-by-game log, the answer is the latter.

Opponent 2-PT % 3-PT % FT % Score* Notes
Neb-Omaha 47.1 (16/34) 31.3 (5/16) 56.7 (17/30) 77-64
Valparaiso 31.9 (15/47) 22.2 (4/18) 57.1 (4/7) 69-46
Judson Coll. 58.7 (27/46) 20.0 (3/15) 60.0 (9/15) 72-54
Loyola (Chi.) 32.6 (14/43) 21.4 (3/14) 81.8 (9/11) 53-46
UI-Chicago 36.4 (12/33) 25.0 (4/16) 55.6 (10/18) 58-46
Dayton 38.7 (12/31) 30.0 (3/10) 58.8 (10/17) 60-43 NIU 5 points in first half
SIU-Edwards. 60.0 (21/35) 33.3 (5/15) 72.7 (8/11) 65-54
UW-Milwaukee 43.6 (24/55) 27.8 (5/18) 62.5 (10/16) 80-73 OT
DePaul 42.0 (21/50) 33.3 (5/15) 87.5 (7/8) 69-64
Seattle 32.4 (11/34) 23.8 (5/21) 57.9 (11/19) 75-48
Washington 38.6 (17/44) 41.7 (5/12) 72.7 (8/11) 67-57
U. Mass. 33.3 (15/45) 27.8 (5/18) 87.5 (14/16) 64-59
Miami (OH) 40.0 (12/30) 69.2 (9/13) 80.8 (21/26) 72-61
Akron 42.9 (15/35) 7.1 (1/14) 69.0 (20/29) 68-53
Ohio U. 39.1 (18/46) 18.2 (2/11) 65.6 (21/32) 81-63
W. Michigan 21.2 (7/33) 18.2 (4/22) 50.0 (8/16) 71-34 NIU's fewest total
points in 67 years
C. Michigan 45.8 (11/24) 52.6 (10/19) 71.0 (22/31) 74-61
E. Michigan 25.0 (7/28) 3.0 (1/33) 53.3 (8/15) 42-25 NIU 4 points, 1-for-31
from floor, in first half
*Northern Illinois score underlined.

On January 19, Northern Illinois lost to Western Michigan, 71-34. Quoting from this game article, the Huskies' 34 points constituted their "lowest point total since losing 61-31 to Southern Illinois in 1946." Then, just two games later, against Eastern Michigan, NIU took its offensive futility to a new (low) level, scoring just 25 points. To find that small of an offensive NIU output, one has to go back to January 11, 1941, when the Huskies lost at Chicago Normal (now Chicago State) 26-25 (see last year's NIU media guide for detailed game-by-game information throughout program history).

Interestingly, in between the WMU and EMU games, NIU got a rare win, topping Central Michigan, 74-61. In racking up a healthy point total, the Huskies shot an impressive.526 on three-point attempts (10-of-19). This outburst from behind the arc, along with one in a Jan. 9 win over Miami (Ohio) in which the Huskies shot .692 from long distance (9-of-13), are clearly the exceptions. In 15 out of NIU's 18 games thus far this season, the Huskies have shot .333 or lower on three-point attempts.

It is also apparent that Northern Illinois is not a good free throw-shooting team, either. In eight of the team's games, the Huskies have shot .600 or lower from the stripe. To explore the idea of a generalized shooting ability, covering two- and three-point baskets and free throws, I obtained correlation coefficients between each pair among the three variables. As shown in the following graph (on which you can click to enlarge), free-throw and three-point success were positively correlated, r = .46 (the probability of this result occurring by chance was .057, slightly higher than the conventional cut-off of .05, but isn't bad for such a small sample).

In short, the better NIU shot free throws in a game, the better it shot three-pointers (and the worse it did one, the worse it did the other). In a way, this is surprising, because free throws are attempted without the shooter being defended (hence the term "free"), whereas three-point shooters often have opponents in their face.

I've circled a bunch of dots in the graph that seem to characterize several NIU shooting nights; in these games, the Huskies' shooting percentages were in the 50s and low 60s on free throws and in the 20s and 30s from downtown. Starting from this relatively low characteristic level of shooting, all it takes is some bad luck or tenacious defense from the opponent to drive the Huskies down to the abysmal shooting they've exhibited of late.

The correlation between two-point shooting and free throws, and between two-point and three-point shooting, were both in the positive direction (higher on one, higher on the other), but not close to the .05 level of statistical significance. Because two-point shots can range from slam-dunks to shots just inside the arc, it's not surprising that their data are somewhat noisy.

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