We appreciate ESPN’s Jay Bilas for indirectly plugging our website throughout much of the first half of yesterday’s 70-51 Louisville win over Marquette. But with the fourth performance of the season where Marquette’s offense has looked absolutely lost and failed to score more than 51 points, we decided to investigate Buzz Williams’ claim that the Marquette offense runs smoother when the ball finds the paint at least once.
Earlier in the contest, Bilas referenced that Williams and Marquette want to get 49 paint touches per game — a number Williams surely has crunched thousands of times to find results in wins more times than not — and last week Williams said the offense shoots 29 percent better when the ball touches the paint once than when it doesn’t. Bilas reiterated this on the telecast, mentioning that Marquette shoots 59 percent from the field after a paint touch, compared to just 31 percent when the ball stays on the perimeter the entire possession.
The disclaimer here, of course, is that we may count paint touches different than Williams and his staff do. Numbers may not be exact, and we also had some discrepancies from when ESPN tracked Marquette’s paint touches the first half, but for all intents and purposes, we were consistent in tracking the numbers.
Here’s what we found:
Marquette played 61 possessions on offense, the second slowest game of their Big East season (Georgetown, 55) and had at least one paint touch on 31 possessions. The other 30 possessions stayed on the perimeter or never made it there (turnover in the backcourt).
On the 31 possessions the ball got into the paint once, Marquette scored 32 points (1.03 points per possession) on 13-of-39 shooting (33.3 percent) and had three turnovers. They had just 39 paint touches on the afternoon, a full 10 short of what Williams believes Marquette needs each game to succeed.
On the 30 possessions the ball stayed outside, Marquette scored 19 points (0.63 PPP) on 6-of-14 shooting and had 14 turnovers.
It’s worth noting that some of the turnovers were forced before Marquette could even set an offense up, so it’s a bit misleading to say 14 turnovers came when it couldn’t get the ball into the paint, considering the ball never got past half-court.
But free throws coming off fouls in the bonus contributed to five of the points they scored without getting a paint touch, so it does work both ways.
The numbers here are pretty revealing. Vander Blue and Trent Lockett did a solid job knocking down mid-range jumpers which accounted for all but one of the six made baskets — a Todd Mayo 3-pointer was the other. And there were close to 10 layups we counted that Marquette missed, as well as putbacks on the offensive glass that didn’t fall.
That, and Marquette being clearly overmatched on the interior — Davante Gardner played just 13 minutes — led to a low shooting percentage when the ball touched the paint and an unusually high mark when it didn’t. Sunday’s game was a bit of an outlier in terms of Williams’ statistic that Marquette shoots 29 percent better off a paint touch. Most days Marquette will make more of their layups and miss more of their long jumpers.
And it’s not just the stats themselves that correlate with offensive success. The flow of the game, getting defenses — specifically Louisville’s 2-3 zone — out of place and keeping the ball moving are all factors Williams looks for when tracking paint touches. Remember, a paint touch possession doesn’t necessarily mean the shot was taken in the paint.
When things were going well — Marquette led 16-10 at the 11:17 mark of the first half — Marquette had received at least one paint touch on 10 of 12 possessions. The final 29 minutes, Marquette had 21 possessions with a paint touch and 28 without, and were outscored 60-35. Coincidence? Nope.
Marquette will continue to live and die by the paint touch, as Jay Bilas beat to death the first 15 minutes of yesterday’s broadcast. But the numbers tell the story, too. Field goal percentages will fluctuate, and Blue’s improved jumper will help when Marquette needs a bailout late in the shot clock.
But the points per possession and total number of paint touches yesterday correlate with the final score. There’s a reason Williams tracks the statistic religiously, and Sunday afternoon we saw why.