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How well did KU defend three-pointers against Ohio State?

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The most fascinating thing to me about this year's Kansas basketball team is its defensive profile.

With center Jeff Withey swatting shots inside, teams have gone exclusively to shooting three-pointers against KU. So far, this hasn't burned the Jayhawks.

According to KenPom.com, 39 percent of the field goals against KU this year have been three-pointers. Only 25 teams in Div. I (out of 347 total) have had a higher percentage of threes taken against them.

That's not a bad thing when teams don't shoot well from the outside, as the Jayhawks' last four opponents have made 15 percent, 21 percent, 28 percent and 26 percent of their three-point tries.

Of course, there's reason to believe this trend won't continue. Ken Pomeroy, for one, believes teams don't have much control of opponents' three-point percentages, saying teams should try their hardest to prevent threes rather than make opponents miss them.

It's still probably a bit extreme to say defenses have no control on three-point shots by opponents, as it would reason that closely guarded shots are made less often than wide-open ones.

With this in mind, I wanted to take a closer look at the last opponent that shot poorly from three against KU: Ohio State, which made eight of 31 threes (26 percent) for its second-worst three-point shooting game of the year.

Below, I posted a screenshot of each OSU three-point attempt with the shooter as close to the top of his release as I could get.

It's not scientific, but I'll break down the shots into four categories: "Closely guarded," "Somewhat guarded," "Barely guarded" and "Unguarded." I'll also include the shooters' three-point percentages coming into the game, which might help indicate if KU's scouting report said to let a certain player shoot from the outside.

It also might be fun to try to predict if a certain shot went in before scrolling down to see the result.

With that, let's take a look at the threes. We'll tally everything up at the end as well.

No. 1

No. 1 by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Sam Thompson
Three-point percentage: 27% (4 of 15)
Category: Somewhat guarded. Kevin Young closes out well to get a high hand, but he's still in recovery mode.
Result: Made three

No. 2

No. 2 by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Lenzelle Smith, Jr.
Three-point percentage: 49% (19 of 39)
Category: Somewhat guarded. Ben McLemore closes with a high hand, but there's still plenty of room for Smith to get the shot off.
Result: Missed three

No. 3

No. 3 by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Deshaun Thomas
Three-point percentage: 41% (27 of 66)
Category: Closely guarded. Kevin Young is right with Thomas as he attempts this shot.
Result: Missed three

No. 4

No. 4 by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Sam Thompson
Three-point percentage: 27% (4 of 15)
Category: Barely guarded. Young does at least try to contest the shot from a few feet away.
Result: Made three

No. 5.

No. 5. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Deshaun Thomas
Three-point percentage: 41% (27 of 66)
Category: Closely guarded. McLemore is in Thomas' shorts here. That doesn't stop him from making the shot.
Result: Made three

No. 6.

No. 6. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: LaQuinton Ross
Three-point percentage: 31% (8 of 26)
Category: Barely guarded. The shot is contested, but Perry Ellis is a couple steps away. I will note that this three is a step or so behind the three-point line.
Result: Missed three

No. 7.

No. 7. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Aaron Craft
Three-point percentage: 33% (10 of 30)
Category: Barely guarded. Elijah Johnson extends a high hand towards Craft, but he's not close to him.
Result: Made three

Shooter: Deshaun Thomas
Three-point percentage: 41% (27 of 66)
Category: Somewhat guarded. Travis Releford is there, but he doesn't elevate to challenge the shot.
Result: Made three

No. 9.

No. 9. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Shannon Scott
Three-point percentage: 46% (5 of 11)
Category: Barely guarded. Almost a carbon copy of Craft's shot above. Johnson is late getting out and doesn't elevate on the shot.
Result: Made three

No. 10.

No. 10. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Aaron Craft
Three-point percentage: 33% (10 of 30)
Category: Somewhat guarded. Naadir Tharpe is within a couple of feet of Craft but doesn't jump on the shot.
Result: Missed three

No. 11.

No. 11. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Sam Thompson
Three-point percentage: 27% (4 of 15)
Category: Unguarded. Releford and Young don't communicate on a screen, and the result is Thompson getting an unblocked view of the rim.
Result: Missed three

No. 12.

No. 12. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Lenzelle Smith, Jr.
Three-point percentage: 49% (19 of 39)
Category: Closely guarded. Young is close to Smith and elevates to get a high hand up on the shot.
Result: Missed three

No. 13.

No. 13. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Shannon Scott
Three-point percentage: 46% (5 of 11)
Category: Unguarded. This is where I draw the line. Yeah, Jeff Withey is coming, but he's so far away on the shot that Scott shouldn't be affected.
Result: Missed three

No. 14

No. 14 by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Lenzelle Smith, Jr.
Three-point percentage: 49% (19 of 39)
Category: Barely guarded. Elijah Johnson is close to Smith, but he fails to get a hand up.
Result: Missed three

No. 15.

No. 15. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Sam Thompson
Three-point percentage: 27% (4 of 15)
Category: Closely guarded. Kevin Young once again is close to the shooter, jumping with his hand up.
Result: Missed three

No. 16.

No. 16. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Lenzelle Smith, Jr.
Three-point percentage: 49% (19 of 39)
Category: Barely guarded. Elijah Johnson once again has neither hand up on the release.
Result: Missed three

No. 17.

No. 17. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Deshaun Thomas
Three-point percentage: 41% (27 of 66)
Category: Somewhat guarded. Travis Releford is there, but he doesn't jump on the challenge.
Result: Made three

No. 18.

No. 18. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Lenzelle Smith, Jr.
Three-point percentage: 49% (19 of 39)
Category: Closely guarded. We've seen a lot of this from Young: high hand, elevating on the shot.
Result: Missed three

No. 19.

No. 19. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Sam Thompson
Three-point percentage: 27% (4 of 15)
Category: Barely guarded. McLemore has good leaping ability, but he's unlikely to change a shot from that far away.
Result: Missed three

No. 20.

No. 20. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Deshaun Thomas
Three-point percentage: 41% (27 of 66)
Category: Closely guarded. Thomas takes an ill-advised shot here, as Releford is right on him.
Result: Missed three

No. 21.

No. 21. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Aaron Craft
Three-point percentage: 33% (10 of 30)
Category: Unguarded. Releford is not challenging this shot at all.
Result: Missed three

No. 22.

No. 22. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Shannon Scott
Three-point percentage: 46% (5 of 11)
Category: Unguarded. This is about as unguarded as you can get. Scott misses it.
Result: Missed three

No. 23.

No. 23. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Aaron Craft
Three-point percentage: 33% (10 of 30)
Category: Unguarded. Johnson is chasing and doesn't challenge this three from Craft.
Result: Missed three

No. 24.

No. 24. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Lenzelle Smith, Jr.
Three-point percentage: 49% (19 of 39)
Category: Somewhat guarded. McLemore is there but doesn't jump to contest.
Result: Missed three

No. 25.

No. 25. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: LaQuinton Ross
Three-point percentage: 31% (8 of 26)
Category: Barely guarded. Young closes out high, but he's not close enough to make much of an impact.
Result: Missed three

No. 26.

No. 26. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Aaron Craft
Three-point percentage: 33% (10 of 30)
Category: Unguarded. Looks like Releford is content to let Craft have that shot. It's hard to know if that was part of the gameplan (Craft went 2-for-6 from three against KU).
Result: Missed three

No. 27.

No. 27. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Deshaun Thomas
Three-point percentage: 41% (27 of 66)
Category: Closely guarded. Releford is right with Thomas with a hand extended.
Result: Missed three

No. 28.

No. 28. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Lenzelle Smith, Jr.
Three-point percentage: 49% (19 of 39)
Category: Unguarded. Maybe fatigue played a role at this point, but I don't think you'd normally expect a shooter like Smith to miss this one.
Result: Missed three

No. 29.

No. 29. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Aaron Craft
Three-point percentage: 33% (10 of 30)
Category: Unguarded. You might argue for a "Barely guarded" here, but Young doesn't even commit to the shot by Craft while staying down defensively. Craft makes it.
Result: Made three

No. 30.

No. 30. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Deshaun Thomas
Three-point percentage: 41% (27 of 66)
Category: Unguarded. This is one I'd expect a shooter like Thomas to make. Instead, he airballs it.
Result: Missed three

No. 31.

No. 31. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: LaQuinton Ross
Three-point percentage: 31% (8 of 26)
Category: Closely guarded. Desperation shot at the end, and Ross is hounded by Young.
Result: Missed three

A few things that stood out to me with this study before we get to the final tally.

We might not be giving Kevin Young enough credit for his perimeter defense. He had five of KU's "closely guarded" plays in the study above and appears to be the best Jayhawk at getting out to perimeter shooters with elevation and a hand up.

Elijah Johnson still looks like he could improve with his perimeter defense. He was defending on four of the seven "barely guarded" plays above and oftentimes was caught with his hands down while opponents were going up for a three.

KU's three-point defense wasn't as good late, as seven of OSU's unguarded threes came on the Buckeyes' final 11 three-point attempts.

All right, let's get to it. Based on my unscientific defensive grading, here are the final results:

OSU three-pointers vs. KU.

OSU three-pointers vs. KU. by Jesse Newell

This is only a one-game sample, but we can start to see where three-point shooting might be more random than we give it credit for.

KU's close guarding did appear to affect OSU, as the Buckeyes made just one of eight threes when tightly covered.

The rest doesn't make much sense. OSU shot even worse on unguarded jumpers (1-for-9) than it did in any other category. And though it's a small sample, the Buckeyes shot a little better when they were somewhat guarded (50 percent) than when they were barely guarded (38 percent).

If nothing else, this proves KU might have been a bit fortunate with its three-point defense against OSU. The Buckeyes, which came in shooting 39 percent on all threes, ended up making just 11 percent on those shots from the perimeter where they were completely unguarded.

KU coach Bill Self was asked Friday afternoon if he was OK with opponents shooting as many threes as they wanted to against the Jayhawks.

"I'm OK with teams shooting guarded threes," Self said. "I think in large part, our three-point percentage defense was one of the worst in the country the first seven or eight games of the season. It was awful. But the last few games it's gotten better, I think in large part because teams miss, not because we've bothered them as much. And when you're rushed, you don't shoot as good of a percentage.

"But I think the number is too high. I wish we pressured out a little bit more to try to reduce that number and force them into Jeff, which I think would probably be something that could key some fast breaks from time to time."

The study above is limited, but I think it somewhat confirms what Pomeroy claims regarding three-point attempts.

As long as KU continues to surrender a high number of three-point attempts, it will continue to be a bit at the mercy of luck, letting opponent three-point shooting — something that is not completely in the Jayhawks' control — dictate whether many defensive possessions are successful or not.

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