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Inside the Numbers: Does UVA score enough in the paint?

uva basketballI had a nice conversation with a long-time AFP reader at halftime of today’s UVA-Pitt game.

The gist: the ‘Hoos, my friend said, don’t have a post scorer, and Ty Jerome doesn’t get to the rim enough, and can’t finish there, and this is all bad news come NCAA Tournament time.

My sense, just a sense, because I hadn’t studied this specifically, was that Virginia does just fine in the paint, but I have to admit, the first thing I did when I got back from JPJ was, look it up.

Because, this is something that has been said and written about UVA teams since the first ACC champs of the Tony Bennett era back in 2013-2014.

Sure, they play D, and sure, they have guards who can shoot the three, but they don’t score enough in the paint, and in one-and-done scenarios, like NCAA Tournament games, you need to be able to score from close in when the jumpers aren’t falling.

Fair point, so, let’s go to the numbers.

The 2018-2019 Cavaliers are shooting more at the rim than last year’s group – 35.8 percent of the shots this year are at the rim, per, up from 30.1 percent last year.

Both groups, interesting note here, shoot (or shot) at a 64.4 percent clip on those shots.

How does that stack up with the rest of the AP Top 10?

Team Shots at rim Shooting pct at rim
Gonzaga 42.7 percent 70.4 percent
UVA 35.8 percent 64.4 percent
Duke 42.6 percent 68.1 percent
Kentucky 33.7 percent 69.4 percent
North Carolina 30.0 percent 71.8 percent
Michigan State 36.4 percent 66.4 percent
Tennessee 32.3 percent 68.2 percent
Houston 27.2 percent 65.6 percent
Michigan 34.4 percent 65.3 percent
Marquette 31.0 percent 58.2 percent


Quick math, averaging out the Top 10, and you get: those teams take 34.6 percent of their shots at the rim, and teams making 66.8 percent of those shots.

Which says to me: UVA is about average, among that subset of elite teams.

Why this matters: my friend at halftime is very much on target with the analysis that a team that can’t get points at the rim is at risk in one-and-done scenarios.

Things like three-point shooting tend to even out over the course of a season: think, Duke, which shot 13-of-21 from three in the win over UVA in Charlottesville last month, shoots 30.7 percent from three over the course of the season.

Duke can’t live by the three, but for one game, the Blue Devils picked up the season’s most impressive road win by anybody because they were able to knock down a bunch of shots they normally clank.

Flip side of that: ahem, the UMBC game last year. While UMBC was knocking down 12 of its 24 attempts from beyond the arc, Virginia, a 38.3 percent three-point shooting team last year, shot just 4-of-22 from three.

Sorry to drop that one on you again, but it illustrates the point: that you need to be able to score from up close when the jumpers aren’t falling.

This Virginia team isn’t quite as good at the rim as the Malcolm Brogdon/Anthony Gill era teams from 2013-2016 (the 2015-2016 Elite Eight squad shot 65.2 percent at the rim, and 38.8 percent of its shots were at the rim, the high of that era).

But, this one is pretty good: starting with Mamadi Diakite (49.0 percent of his shots are at the rim, shooting 74.3 percent at the rim) and De’Andre Hunter (39.9 percent/70.1 percent).

Jack Salt doesn’t shoot the ball all that much, averaging just 2.8 shot attempts per game, but when he does shoot, it’s at the rim (75.7 percent), and he shoots at a high clip on those shots (64.3 percent).

Jay Huff, getting more minutes of late, shoots 62.2 percent of his shots at the rim, and shoots an otherworldly 80.4 percent on those shots.

Which gets us to Jerome, whose NBA prospects are improving as he gets better at getting into the lane and converting at the rim.

As a freshman, Jerome’s shot selection included a low 12.7 percent at the rim, improving that modestly as a sophomore to 15.5 percent (and shooting just 53.1 percent on those shots).

To this point in his junior season, Jerome is shooting 22.9 percent of his shots at the rim, and is connecting on 61.9 percent of those shots.

Not coincidentally, his free-throw attempts are up – to 2.5 per game this season, more than doubling his numbers per game from his sophomore season.

His assists, also up: to 5.1 per game, from 3.9 per game last year.

When you can get to the rim, you make more shots, you get to the line more often, and defenders slide off their guys to help, leaving your teammates open on the perimeter and in the lane.

These numbers all explain why the 2018-2019 Virginia team is fourth in adjusted offensive efficiency per, up from 30th last year and 50th two years ago, the best group of any of Bennett’s teams.

Yes, even better than that 2015-2016 Elite Eight team, which ranked eighth in adjusted offensive efficiency.

It’s OK to worry, is what I’m getting at, but, this team is pretty good offensively, generally, and specifically, it’s just fine in the paint.

Column by Chris Graham

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