Houston’s historically mighty shot volume

Marcus Sasser is afforded many opportunities to score. (uhcougars.com)

The No. 1 team in the AP poll is 27-2 and riding the nation’s sixth-longest active win streak. Said team also sits atop KenPom’s rankings and has done so continuously for the last 60 days. So what do we do as a college basketball commentariat? We sit around and talk about how there are no great teams this year. Forgive us. It’s what we do most years.

Houston may indeed turn out to be not great. As always, that will be for March and April to decide. What we can say without fear of contradiction in February, however, is that the Cougars are the greatest shot volume team we’ve seen in college basketball in the last five years.

Teams that take care of the ball and rebound their misses attempt a higher volume of shots than do opponents engaged in one or neither of these pursuits. To say as much feels unnecessary. It’s mere common sense, but for whatever reason we rarely watch games or discuss teams with this in mind. Happily, we can make helpful comparisons between numbers of attempts across varying tempos and free throw rates with our trusty shot volume index.

Named for Svi Mykhailiuk in the best traditions of PECOTA, SCHOENE, KUBIAK, and VUKOTA, a shot volume index can be thought of as the number of attempts a team would record from the field in 100 possessions of (rather implausibly) zero-free-throw basketball. This season Houston looks really good on this measure.

Shot volume index (SVI)
Highest Division I shot volumes, all games: 2018-23

                            TO%     OR%     SVI
1. Houston       2023      15.1    38.1    103.1
2. Iowa          2022      13.0    32.3    102.7
3. Houston       2021      16.2    39.8    102.5
4. UCLA          2022      13.2    31.4    102.1
5. Cincinnati    2019      16.0    37.4    101.7

TO and OR %s: kenpom.com

Note that Kelvin Sampson and Mick Cronin each show up on this honor roll twice. Both are old masters when it comes to this shot volume thing, and, generally speaking, they don’t call timeouts just to stare at officials.

Even these whole-season numbers may sell the Cougars short. Sampson’s vigorous viziers of verisimilitude in volume have turned things up a notch in conference play, particularly in terms of hanging on to the ball.

Showing the volume both at home and on the road
Highest shot volumes, 2023 conference games only, thru Feb. 27:
ACC, American, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, MW, Pac-12, SEC, WCC

                     TO%     OR%     SVI
1.  Houston          13.8    37.2    104.2
2.  NC State         12.1    30.0    102.7
3.  Gonzaga          12.7    31.0    102.4
4.  Kentucky         16.9    39.2    101.3
5.  Saint Mary's     15.1    34.1    101.1
6.  UCLA             16.3    35.6    100.4
7.  Iowa             14.3    30.6    100.4
8.  Tennessee        16.7    35.3     99.7
9.  North Carolina   15.0    30.3     99.5
10. UConn            18.9    40.3     99.4         

At the other extreme of shot volume one finds a forbidding and arid landscape populated for the most part by high-turnover offenses just trying to make it to next season.

Not enough scoring chances
Lowest shot volumes, 2023 conference games only, thru Feb. 27:
ACC, American, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, MW, Pac-12, SEC, WCC

                        TO%     OR%     SVI
100.  Wyoming          18.4    22.0     91.7
101.  Minnesota        18.6    22.0     91.5
102.  Tulsa            19.6    24.6     91.5
103.  Butler           17.2    17.8     91.0
104.  Louisville       22.1    29.4     90.8
105.  Washington       21.1    26.0     90.4
106.  Air Force        18.9    20.2     90.3
107.  Oklahoma         21.1    25.3     90.1
108.  Oregon State     21.6    25.3     89.6         

Perhaps these teams can draw inspiration in this one stylistic respect from the example set by Houston, a program that posted five consecutive losing records in conference play prior to Sampson’s arrival. The Cougars might fairly be said to suffer from the Gonzaga challenge where evaluation’s concerned. We know Sampson’s style and we know UH will dominate the American annually. It can be difficult to pause and consider the differences year-to-year the way observers do so eagerly with a Kansas or a Duke.

There may be a difference this year. Again, it’s still February (barely), but who knows. Houston may turn out to be even better on offense than we’re used to seeing from this program.