When the news of Ryan Boatright's second NCAA suspension came out my thoughts immediately turned to UConn's game against Notre Dame. Although the Huskies had scored a comeback win against West Virginia, they'd still lost 2 of their last 3, and had struggled on the road all season. Without Boatright and the 3-guard lineup Jim Calhoun turned to when the offense stagnated, I feared the Irish might become another road defeat which the team could ill afford.
Instead UConn put together one of their most complete and dominating performances of the season. Like all UConn fans, I'm frustrated by the way the NCAA has handled the Boatright situation, but the Notre Dame win led me to wonder what Boatright, and more specifically, the 3-guard lineup brought to the table. The offense certainly seemed to run better with the Boat-show in the game, but Calhoun made comments that the team had trouble rebounding with that unit on the floor. As suggested by Derbyguy in the comments of the 1/13 roundup, I pulled the rebounding and scoring data for the lineups with Boatright in the game.
Boatright has obvious value in spelling both Lamb and Napier, and Napier has commented multiple times on how knowing Boatright is available on the bench allows him to play more aggressively on defense. So, none of this is meant to imply that Boatright's value can be condensed to a number, but it's interesting to see how the team differs when he's on and off the floor.
I'm going to compare the three-guard lineup to other backcourts with Boatright in the game, because Boatright's suspensions have created his own sub-sample of games. I've included the numbers for lineups with Napier and Lamb in the backcourt for reference, but keep in mind that those numbers include the 7 games Boatright hasn't played. Also note that I'm using points per weighted shot (PPWS) as a measure of shooting efficiency. For those unfamiliar with that stat you can read a definition in this glossary of statistics. Also keep in mind that the 40 and 52 minute samples for lineups with Boatright/Lamb and Boatright/Napier backcourts are pretty small.
UConn has looked to the 3-guard lineup for improved offensive efficiency, and it has delivered. The 3-guard lineup posted the highest PPWS, and both lineups with Boatright and Lamb (with and without Napier) made over half their shots. Moreover, with Boatright UConn has done a much better job of getting to the free throw line. Though, it's worth noting that some of this is due to the end of close games, as Boatright is in during closeout-time due to his ball-handling and free-throw-shooting abilities.
Rebounding-wise, the 3-guard lineup does take a hit on the offensive glass. Of lineup's containing Boatright, the 3-guard lineup has grabbed the lowest percentage of offensive rebounds (down 3 percentage points from 36.67% to 33.59%), but hasn't been far off the team's season-long marks on the defensive glass. In general lineups with Boatright have been far worse on the offensive glass that the team's season average (41.1%).
Offensive rebounding has been one of the team's biggest strengths this season, and has been a hallmark of Calhoun coached teams for years, so it's amazing that 64.64% (nearly 2/3rds) of Boatright's minutes have come in 3 guard sets. So far the uptick in offensive efficiency (particularly getting to the line) has been enough to justify the downgrade in rebounding, but it's easy to see why Calhoun won't be comfortable until he can get 2-guard lineups to function as efficiently on offense as the 3-guard units have.
In that sense, Boatright's frustrating situation does provide an opportunity for others to step up and benefit from increased playing time. Whoever among DeAndre Daniels, Niels Giffey and Roscoe Smith can step up at the small forward position has an excellent opportunity to make the case for running with the first team offense. Smith had a great game against Notre Dame, but all but 32 seconds of his 15+ minutes came as a power forward rather than a wing. Prior to the Boatright suspension, UConn was looking for a wing to step up. The good news is with Boatright out indefinitely (and considering the glacial pace of NCAA reviews it might be several games), UConn's wings have an excellent opportunity.
Carl Jackson breaks down UConn basketball using advanced metrics, statistical analysis and Microsoft Paint at his blog, UConn by the Numbers. You can also check him out on Twitter @Uconnbynumbers