Building a Better Basketball Offense, Part 7: All of Our Friends

You’ll find Synergy’s #2 offense in 2018-19 at College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri

Yes, it’s strange that it took us this long to get to a top-two offense of the 2018-19 college basketball season, but I promise it’s defensible. This team had a shockingly low offensive rebound rate of 20%, which led to a Shot Volume of 103.9, which would’ve been one of the lowest in the nation last year. So: in a Synergy-based system that counts rebounds as separate possessions that you do or do not score on, a team that doesn’t get many offensive rebounds is going to get a small boost. In a normal possession calculation where they aren’t separate possessions, that team won’t feel the same benefit.

Anyway, that’s the explanation for how your head writer here somehow failed to recognize the greatness of the College of the Ozarks offense:

The Bobcats, who reside around ten minutes from Branson, MO, simply have a white-hot half-court offense. They’ve had one for a while now. This year’s offense may have ranked #2 nationally per the Synergy database, but all of their four previous offenses ranked in the 78th-percentile nationally or higher. It’s a team that shot an absurd 43.5% from three this year, the highest in NAIA D-II, along with ranking #1 in assists per game. Their half-court motion confounds opponents, sure, but it’s clearly a culture of unselfish basketball that leads to a lot of good shots:

Their clear leader was Ethan Davidson, a player that relished this style of offense. What Ozarks do isn’t necessarily hurry-up offense; Synergy had them slightly below the national average in pace and slightly above the average in field goal attempts. However, players are encouraged to take the first great shot available, not necessarily the good one. Having a player like Davidson that’s an excellent shooter away from the rim helps. This isn’t a three, but you can see how a guy that got 8.5 rebounds a game and hit 47.7% of his 107 threes truly stresses a defense out:

Having a player like this who knows how much he can help his teammates is a real blessing as a coach. Davidson was one of six Ozarks players that finished the season with 80+ assists, an accomplishment that I don’t immediately have a direct D-I reference for. Watch how much gravity he draws in the post, and watch as he knows to find the first open shooter available:

This is how you shoot 43.5% from three as a team. Ozarks ran out one of the most threatening lineups in the nation, featuring three 47%+ three-point shooters, along with two others that hit 25+ threes. Their style of play didn’t stretch them from a depth perspective, either. Four players put in 32+ minutes of work a night, with the rotation rarely ever passing seven-men deep, if not six deep for important games. Here’s another good pass from Ethan Davidson to Treydon Rackley, who was merely a 36% three-point shooter:

Like all good coaches, Steve Shepherd clearly understands his players’ strengths and plays to them. Shepherd wasn’t available for an interview – he’s also the athletic director, so he’s a busy man – but I was able to get a grasp on his coaching style and why he’s won so many games through video review. Shepherd’s been the coach of the Bobcats for 17 seasons. 14 of those have resulted in 20+ wins, including a 2006 NAIA D-II championship. (This is where I stop everything and tell you all about how cool it is that Ozarks have a female lead assistant coach for the 2019-20 season. Good work, Bobcats!)

This team in particular wasn’t his most successful, but it broke school records for points per game (89.8), threes (393), assists per game (18.5), field goal percentage (51.2%), free throw percentage (77.8%), and, obviously, three-point percentage (43.5%). When your good-not-great teams are demolishing school records, you’re probably a very good head coach:

This is an offense that leans into variance (44.4% of all attempts from three, just 6.54 offensive rebounds per game) as opposed to running from it. They thrive in the chaos. When you’re as good at hitting those outside shots as they are, it’s no wonder that defenses get incredibly frustrated. That’s how you score 100+ points eight times against a schedule you entirely have to craft on your own. Oh yeah, I almost forgot: the Bobcats have had all this success despite being one of 18 teams in NAIA D-II without a conference.

Of course, it wasn’t all from the perimeter. The widely-spaced spread offense from Point Lookout has its benefits at the rim, too:

35.5% of the Bobcat attempts from the field were at the rim, per Synergy; they made 65.5% of these shots. That would’ve been a top-30 rate in D-I this season, and again, this is despite having a serious size deficiency and a system that prefers to not crash the offensive boards. It’s all about determination, selflessness, and a desire to get buckets any way possible:

I find this Ozarks offense absolutely fascinating. It violates a key rule of mine – crash the boards with at least three players on every shot – and guess what, I don’t care. Neither should you! Their closest Division I comparison, to me, is Loyola (IL). The Ramblers are a rare sight on the offensive boards, often sending one or two players to rebound and the rest to get back in transition to slow the game down. Ozarks doesn’t slow down the tempo of a game nearly as much, but they have a very similar set of emphases: every shot taken must be the highest-quality possible; if you can pass up a good shot for a great shot, that’s ideal; stack your team with a ton of perimeter shooting and watch them roll. It’s not a 1-to-1 match, but it’s close enough that it makes me think.

Long story short: you should be watching College of the Ozarks basketball. I waited too long to do so; do not repeat my mistake.

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