Last year, I predicted Tania Davis would be the X-Factor for Iowa women’s basketball. My reasoning seemed solid. Davis was an integral part of Iowa’s starting lineup in 2016-2017, but suffered a torn ACL injury in Big Ten play. To start the 2017-2018 season, she was working her way back from that injury. A healthy Davis would unquestionably improve Iowa’s lineup and season expectations. There were questions about how soon Davis would be back, though, and how effective she would be once back.
One year later, it’d be easy to make the same prediction. The Hawkeyes lost Davis to another ACL injury last year, and the same questions about her health and how effective she’ll be loom into this season. Coach Bluder has even called Davis the team’s X-Favor:
— Iowa Women's BBall (@IowaWBB) October 31, 2018
But making the same projection as last year wouldn’t be any fun. So instead, I’ll say the X-Factor for Iowa’s 2018-2019 season is Iowa’s 3-point shooting (and Davis’ impact on it).
Iowa’s 3-Point Shooting in Wins and Losses
To start, let’s take a look at some of Iowa’s 3-point shooting statistics from last season:
Overall 3-Point Shooting Percentage: 35.3%
3-Point Shooting in 24 Team Wins: 146-381: 38.3%
3-Point Shooting in 8 Team Loses: 28-112: 25%
From the above, it's clear that Iowa shoots significantly better from 3-point range in their wins than they do in their loses. Now, that’s not particularly groundbreaking. Teams generally have a better chance of winning if they make more baskets. I’d guess every team in the nation shoots better from 3 in their wins than in their loses.
There is a wide disparity between those two shooting percentages, however. In fact, Iowa won only six games in which they shot worse than 33% from 3-point range. The also lost two games in which they shot better than 33%. 33% was an arbitrary cutoff point, but one that shows a clear trend:
Iowa’s record when shooting 33% or better from 3: 18-2
Iowa’s record when shooting worse than 33% from 3: 6-6
Simply put, when Iowa shoots well from 3-point range, they almost always win. If Iowa doesn’t shoot well from 3, they often struggle. Again, this isn’t particularly groundbreaking, but does show that shooting well from long range is important for the Hawkeyes.
Differences in 3-Point Makes and Attempts
Something interesting that the above doesn’t show is how often Iowa shoots threes, and how that differs in wins and losses.
Iowa average 3-pointers made and attempted in wins: 6.1-15.9
Iowa average 3-pointers made and attempted in loses: 3.5-14
The above shows that in victories, Iowa makes, on average, 2.6 more 3-pointers in a game than they do in losses, and that they attempt 1.9 fewer 3-pointers in their loses.
But those numbers still don’t fully show a trend in Iowa’s 3-point shooting that I noticed when examining the data. That trend emerges when you separate Iowa’s first 11 games from their final 21.
Iowa’s average 3-pointers made and attempted in their first 11 games: 7.2-18.5 38.9%
Iowa’s average 3-pointers made and attempted in their final 21 games: 4.5-13.8 32.6%
This trend is a lot clearer. In their final 21 games, Iowa made, on average, 2.7 fewer 3-pointers per game and attempted 4.7 fewer 3-pointers per game. Iowa also shot 6.3% worse, on average, in those final 21 games.
So what changed? Why did Iowa take, and make, fewer 3-pointers after their first 11 games? Well, at least part of that answer is the schedule got harder. Iowa’s final 21 games include all of Big Ten play, plus the post-season. It’s generally harder to get, and make, good shots against better teams.
But I think a bigger part of that answer is that Tania Davis was injured in Iowa’s 12th game. Davis is one of Iowa’s best 3-point shooters. She’s also one of the team’s primary ballhandlers, and is very good at driving into the lane. Her loss removed both a good shooter and a player that was good at finding open shooters.
The Impact of Less 3-Point Shooting
Iowa’s record in its first 11 games: 10-1
Iowa’s record in its final 21 games: 14-7
This is one of those instances where the numbers and the eye test match up. After losing Davis, Iowa clearly didn’t look to shoot three-pointers as much. They also had a lot more games where they struggled shooting from 3-point range. That resulted in a less balanced offense and more reliance on Megan Gustafson having a big game down low.
While relying significantly on Gustafson isn’t always a bad thing, it does make her job harder. Defenses collapsed on her, making her shots more difficult and entry passes to her harder to execute. A collapsing defense also makes it difficult for guards to drive into the lane for higher percentage shots. Iowa also struggled several times down the stretch against good shooting teams, because they didn’t have the 3-point shooting to keep up.
3-point shooting is Iowa’s X-Factor this year because of the impact good 3-point shooting has on the team. Simply put, Iowa has a better chance of winning games when they: 1) attempt more 3-pointers (within reason), and 2) make more 3-pointers.
The latter point is, again, obvious: Iowa wins more games when they make more baskets.
The former point should not be forgotten, though. Iowa won more games last year when they attempted more 3-pointers in a game. That will likely be true this year, too. Iowa attempting somewhere between 17-21 three pointers in a game is a sign that the offense is healthy and balanced. That the guards are getting involved and leaving space for Gustafson to work inside. When they’re shooting less than 17 threes in a game, they are either dominating in the paint, or the offense has lost its balance.
Davis returning should help restore some of the 3-point shooting Iowa lacked in the latter half of last season. Even if injuries strike again, however, Iowa should not abandon their 3 point shooting. It is necessary for the offense to function at its best.