If you follow college basketball at all, you’re well aware of Myles Powell. The senior guard leads 13th ranked Seton Hall in scoring and is considered by many to be a contender for Big East Player of the Year and All-American honors. You’ll even see Powell’s name pop up in National Player of the Year conversations. Here’s college basketball reporter, analyst, and weirdo Jon Rothstein declaring Powell not just the sport’s best player, but saying no one else might even be close.
Rothstein’s tweet came about a month ago and, while it was a bit of a bold take, wasn’t far off from public opinion. Powell’s counting stats are gaudy and get lapped up by the national media. He scores 21.4 points per game and has topped the 25 point mark in nine different games this season. The shots he makes often come from well behind the 3-point line or with a hand in his face. He’s one of the most confident shooters in college basketball.
And yet, for the last three months, that confidence has been unearned. Powell’s shooting, particularly from outside the 3-point arc has been uncharacteristically poor since late November. In fact, his long range shooting has been downright bad.
For reference, this season across Division I men’s basketball, despite the 3-point line moving back from last year’s distance, players are shooting 33.4 percent from outside the arc. Powell certainly faces more defensive pressure than the average player. Teams facing Seton Hall are game-planning to run Powell off the 3-point line and make sure a hand stays in his face at nearly all times. Even with that qualifier, Powell’s shooting is an issue, particularly at the volume at which he’s been shooting.
Only 11 players in the nation have attempted more threes than Powell. Compared to college basketball’s other high volume shooters, Powell has been among the worst, if not the worst, at converting from long range.
In the 2019-20 season, just two players have attempted more than 200 threes and made under 31 percent on those attempts, Myles Powell and Wofford’s Nathan Hoover. Powell’s outside shooting percentage has been a tick lower than Hoover’s, cementing his status as the least effective high volume shooter in the sport.
In fact, Powell’s shooting this season been historically troubled. Since 1992, only 23 players have attempted 200 or more threes and shot under 31 percent, including Powell and Hoover. That list includes only two other power conference players, Ray Gallegos and Jerome Coleman for uninspiring, under .500 Nebraska and Rutgers teams, respectively.
That was several paragraphs and a bunch of numbers to make a very simple point. Myles Powell shoots a ton of threes and misses a high percentage of them. A reasonable Seton Hall fan would have one simple retort:
The Pirates have won 14 of 17 games, including a 10 game winning streak.
They hold a one game lead in the Big East standings. Powell still averages 21.3 points per game and is the focal point of the Seton Hall offense.
Clearly these ideas are a bit at war with one another. Powell leads Seton Hall in usage rate and only five players in the nation take a higher percentage of their team’s field goal attempts than he does. For him to do so while shooting so dismally from outside is troubling. Making matters worse, his free throw rate and attempts per game are down this season compared to last year.
And yet, Seton Hall keeps winning.
There are a few potential explanations for how those two ideas can co-exist, while seemingly being at odds. The Pirates could simply be winning despite Powell’s shooting. Quincy McKnight has emerged as a very good scorer in his own right. Sandro Mamukelashvili has developed into a reliable stretch four who can destroy a mismatch. Role players on the wings, like Myles Cale and Jared Rhoden, have been able to step up when needed. Romaro Gill has been a superhero on the glass and defensively. Seton Hall is a good team, perhaps good enough to overcome seven or eight missed 3-point shots from Powell on a nightly basis.
That’s hard to believe. Even if it’s true, it stands to reason that even if Seton Hall can survive that situation in regular season play, the postseason is another animal. In Seton Hall’s 18 wins, Powell is shooting 30.3 percent on 8.4 deep attempts per game. In the Pirates’ seven losses, Powell has made 29.9 percent of his threes, but has averaged a whopping 11 attempts in those games.
It’s not hard to imagine Seton Hall winning a game when Powell shoots 2 for 10 from outside the arc. It is hard to imagine Seton Hall winning four, five, or six games in a row on neutral courts against tournament competition if Powell is going to shoot that poorly.
Maybe Powell turns it on, regresses toward the mean in the best possible way, and becomes a March legend. Maybe he puts up a 1 for 12 night in the first round and the Pirates get bounced. Perhaps the most likely scenario is that Powell and the Pirates find a way to channel his energies into penetrating attacks and increase his focus on only taking 3-point shots that come in the flow of the offense.
If that happens, this team can reach the Final Four. If not, Seton Hall will exit during the tournament’s first weekend for the fifth March in a row.
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and senior writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to ESPN.com, Rush The Court, Larry Brown Sports, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. You can find every post from this blog on Twitter by following @PalestraBack.