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Dan D’Antoni, college basketball coaching hero

Grandpa’s shouting about the analytics, kids, but he ain’t wrong.

NCAA Basketball: Conference USA Tournament-Middle Tennessee State vs Marshall Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

I first read about tempo-free stats in Basketball on Paper while I was in college, um, just a few 10 years back now, and it was an immediate light-bulb moment for me. There was also a lot in that book about strategic approach that was not appreciated for a long time. Fortunately, the internet changed a lot, and it helps too when the pros set an example, because college coaches are nothing if not leeches off of their professional counterparts. (And vice versa.)

Still it’s mildly surprising to see a coach like Marshall’s Dan D’Antoni so openly advocate for an analytic approach to college basketball, as he did after his team’s loss to Pittsburgh last week. Granted, he has a motive here, which is to defend his own decision-making in the game, but he is also not wrong. Threes are the best shot in basketball.

It took a while for that basic truth to take hold, but I suspect Golden State winning the title was an eye-opening moment for a lot of coaches at the lower levels. Back when Herb Sendek’s NC State offense seemed like such an extreme, the average D-I team attempted threes about 32 or 33 percent of the time. Last season, that average was north of 35%, and now it is north of 36%.

You can call it a trend, but numbers don’t lie, either. It’s not a fad, it’s people finally waking up. And the more often a guy in a position like D’Antoni’s shouts about it, the more it’s going to take hold within the mainstream. That’s where analytics in general and a perimeter-oriented approach specifically have always belonged in basketball.

Some dudes are gonna live in denial, of course, and some have the luxury of doing so—if you recruit a bazillion 5-stars, you probably don’t need to worry a ton about a nuanced statistical approach to how you game plan. For the other 300+ D-I programs, ignoring analytics means you’re leaving points on the floor, at one end or the other, likely costing yourself wins in the process.

D’Antoni gets that, and also understands how a mid-major team like Marshall needs to play in order to maximize its chances of winning. That level of self-awareness is still somewhat rare in college. Most coaches think or assume their actions are maximizing their team’s potential, but man, there’s only so much the good ol’ gut is gonna tell you.