Chase for 180: Sterling Gibbs’ improved shooting a significant factor in Seton Hall’s 6-0 start

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The “Chase for 180” is back for a second year, and for those who may not be familiar with the project it’s our attempt to identify some of the best shooters in America. But what makes one an “elite shooter?” For some it’s merely the ability to knock down perimeter shots at a high rate, but that isn’t the case for all players. High-level shooting requires proficiency from three, the field overall, and from the foul line. 

“180” refers to the resulting number when adding a player’s field goal, three-point and free throw percentages, with the best shooters either approaching or surpassing that mark. 50 percent or better from the field overall, 40 percent or better from three and 90 percent or better from the foul line. This achievement has occurred more often in college basketball than it has in the NBA, where just six players (Steve Nash did it in four different seasons) have done it in the history of the league. 

This season we’ll update this list weekly, with players also needing to qualify to be ranked by the NCAA in each of the three percentage categories in order to be considered. In order to qualify to be ranked a player needs to have played in at least 75 percent of his team’s games and have averaged: 

  • five or more field goal attempts per game;
  • two or more three-point attempts per game;
  • 2.5 or more free throw attempts per game.

Note: Provisional Division I member Incarnate Word was not included, as four of their first five games have been played against non-Division I competition.  

After finishing the 2013-14 season with a 17-17 overall record, the hope for the Seton Hall Pirates entering this season was that a highly regarded recruiting class would help them take a step forward in the Big East. In this current era of college basketball the tendency is to focus on “who’s next” while a decent number of returnees are viewed as “yesterday’s news.” In regards to Seton Hall Isaiah Whitehead and company may have been the focus, but there is no doubt that the Pirates need their returnees as well if they’re a factor in the Big East conversation.

One of those returnees is junior guard Sterling Gibbs, and his play to start the season is a significant reason why the Pirates are currently 6-0. Gibbs is currently averaging a team-best 18.3 points per game, an increase of more than five points from a season ago (13.2 ppg). Part of that has to do with the loss of three of the team’s top five scorers from last season in Fuquan Edwin, Eugene Teague and Patrik Auda.

The bigger factor: Gibbs is not only taking better shots, but he’s also made them at a far greater clip through five games.

After shooting 41 percent from the field, 34.4% from three and 72.4% from the charity stripe in 2013-14, Gibbs has been a “50-40-90” player for Willard’s Pirates thus far. Gibbs is currently shooting 52.5% from the field (14th in the Big East), 58.3% from three (first) and 91.4% from the foul line (third). And a look at Gibbs’ percentages in certain areas of the floor reveal that he’s done a better job of converting around the rim than he did a season ago.

According to hoop-math.com Gibbs attempted 53.5% of his shots at the rim in 2013-14, making 44.8% of those shots. Through six games in 2014-15 Gibbs has taken 47.5% of his shots in that area of the floor, shooting 55.2%. Gibbs has also made strides with regards to his effective field goal and true shooting percentages, going from 46.7% to 63.9% in the former and from 55.2% to 70.8% in the latter per kenpom.com.

Those numbers may very well change when the Pirates begin conference play, thanks to opponents being more familiar with Gibbs and his skill set. Or they could remain where they are, with the junior building on the quality start his team needed. As Seton Hall’s underclassmen find their way in Willard’s system, the play of the “elder statesman” Gibbs is a big reason why the Pirates are currently on the edge of the Top 25.

“50-40-90 Club”

1. Sean Sellers (Ball State)
Percentages: 51.7 (FG), 63.2 (3PT), 90.0 (FT) = 210.3

Sellers (19.5 ppg) is one of two freshmen leading the way for the Cardinals, with guard Jeremie Tyler being the other.

2. Sterling Gibbs (Seton Hall)
Percentages: 52.5, 58.3, 91.4 = 202.2

3. Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga)
Percentages: 58.3, 46.2, 90.0 = 194.5

Pangos’ assist-to-turnover ratio has received a lot of attention thus far, but he remains one of the nation’s best shooters.

4. Tyler Haws (BYU)
Percentages: 50.5, 42.4, 91.1 = 184.0

Haws has picked up where he left off last season, averaging 22.1 points per game on a team that’s averaging nearly 96 points per contest.

Seven more “180” players 

1. Alec Peters (Valparaiso)
Percentages: 59.8, 55.0, 84.6 = 199.4

After averaging 12.7 points per game as a freshman, the 6-foot-9 Peters is up to 19.2 and is one of the top shooters in the Horizon League.

2. Marc Loving (Ohio State)
Percentages: 57.9, 57.9, 81.8 = 197.6

D’Angelo Russell is the headliner offensively, but keep an eye on the sophomore Loving as the season wears on as he gives the Buckeyes a solid pick-and-pop option.

3. Austin Richie (Western Michigan)
Percentages: 54.7, 58.3, 83.3 = 196.3

The senior guard has made improvements across the board, with his scoring (13.1 ppg) increasing by more than five points from last season (7.9 ppg).

4. Tim Douglas (Portland State)
Percentages: 55.9, 61.1, 78.6 = 195.6

Douglas (12.0 ppg) is one of five Vikings averaging double figures, with the balance being one reason why they’re currently 4-1.

5. Anthony Livingston (Arkansas State)
Percentages: 63.9, 62.5, 68.8 = 195.2

The 6-foot-8 sophomore is currently averaging 20.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per contest.

6. Wade Baldwin IV (Vanderbilt)
Percentages: 54.8, 58.3, 80.0 = 193.1

Baldwin’s part of a freshman class that’s being asked to hit the ground running at Vanderbilt, and he’s averaging 8.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per contest.

7. James Blackmon Jr. (Indiana)
Percentages: 51.2, 53.7, 87.5 = 192.4

Blackmon Jr.’s ability to score has taken some of the scoring load off of Yogi Ferrell’s shoulders.

TWO MORE FRESHMEN TO WATCH

Vince Edwards (Purdue): 63.5% FG, 47.6% 3PT, 80.0% FT
Trevon Bluiett (Xavier): 55.7% FG, 50.0% 3PT, 86.4% FT