Atif Russel

Chase for 180: So far, so good for Virginia’s Justin Anderson

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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.

To read prior installments of the Chase for 180, click here

Despite returning three starters from a team that won 30 games, an ACC title, and made the program’s first Sweet 16 appearance since 1995, Virginia had some important questions to answer in advance of the 2014-15 season. Chief among those questions was how they would account for the loss of Joe Harris (12.0 ppg), who despite seeing his role within the Virginia offense change some was still the team’s second-leading scorer in 2013-14. Without Harris the Cavaliers were left with one double-digit scorer, Malcolm Brogdon, meaning that at least one of their supplementary offensive pieces from a season ago would need to step forward if Tony Bennett’s team is to defend its ACC crown.

Enter Justin Anderson, who in each of his first two seasons was a valuable reserve and won ACC Sixth Man of the Year honors in 2013-14. While the Montrose Christian product may not be considered a “lights out” shooter, the strides he’s made offensively are a major reason why Virginia is currently 9-0 and ranked sixth nationally.

After shooting 40.7% from the field and 29.4% from beyond the arc in 2013-14, Anderson’s gotten off to a hot start in 2014-15. Currently shooting 57.0% from the field and 58.8% from beyond the arc, Anderson’s more than doubled his scoring average from a season ago (7.8 ppg) to 15.8 points per game. Thus far Anderson’s reached double figures in eight of Virginia’s nine games, and while he managed to do so on 15 occasions last season Anderson’s been far more efficient this season.

According to Kenpom.com Anderson’s effective field goal and true shooting percentages have jumped substantially, with the former going from 47.0% to 68.6% and the latter from 51.6% to 70.8%. As a result Anderson’s offensive rating has gone from 100.9 to 135.2, but it is early in the season. That leads to the question that was asked in our weekly National Player of the Year rankings: can Anderson sustain this level of production?

Obviously things are going to get tougher for Anderson and the Cavaliers when they get into ACC play. However what needs to be considered are the team’s willingness to work for quality looks regardless of who takes the shot (Brogdon and Anthony Gill are also averaging double figures, and Mike Tobey isn’t far off at 8.4 ppg), and Anderson not taking the increased opportunities as a license to fire away from the perimeter indiscriminately (39.8% of his shots this year have been taken at the rim per hoop-math.com, compared to 30.5% last year).

The percentages for Anderson are likely to change as the season wears on. But given the fact that thus far he’s been a more efficient player in terms of the shots he’s taking, Anderson has the ability (and talent) to ensure that any decrease isn’t too drastic.

50-40-90 Club

1. Marcus Marshall (Missouri State)
56.0% FG, 57.1% 3PT, 93.5% FT = 206.6

One of the best scorers and all-around shooters in the Missouri Valley Conference, Marshall’s scored 18 points or more in five of the seven games he’s played in this season.

He’s Really Close 

2. Tyler Haws (BYU)
49.7%, 43.4%, 90.1% = 183.2

Haws was in part of the “50-40-90 Club” in the last installment, and the concern for BYU is how long they’ll be without him thanks to the ankle injury suffered over the weekend.

Nine More “180” Players

1. Sean Sellers (Ball State)
51.7%, 62.5%, 89.3% = 203.5

December hasn’t been as kind to Sellers as November was, as he’s shot 38.9% from the field in three games, but the three-point shooting (3-for-5) has remained solid.

2.  Marc Loving (Ohio State) 
54.9%, 53.8%, 87.5% = 196.2

The sophomore’s been quiet over the last two games for the Buckeyes, scoring a total of eight points on 1-for-5 shooting from the field (6-for-6 FT, however).

3. Justin Anderson (Virginia)
57.0%, 58.8%, 80.0% = 195.8

4. Austin Richie (Western Michigan)
52.8%, 56.8%, 84.4% = 194.0

In two games this month Richie’s shooting 9-for-19 from the field, 7-for-13 from beyond the arc and 7-for-8 from the foul line, averaging 16.0 points per game.

5. Derrick Marks (Boise State)
51.8%, 53.3%, 85.2% = 190.3

With Anthony Drmic struggling with back problems, a more efficient Marks has stepped forward for the Broncos.

6. Alec Peters (Valparaiso)
53.2%, 50.0%, 86.1% = 189.3

After struggling in a loss to New Mexico (4-for-14 FG) the sophomore bounced back in a three-point win over Ball State on Saturday, scoring 23 points (7-for-16 FG, 3-for-8 3PT, 6-for-6 FT) and grabbing ten rebounds.

7. Milton Doyle (Loyola-IL)
58.2%, 63.6%, 66.0 = 187.8

While the free throw percentage can use some work, keep in mind that Doyle (15.6 ppg) is playing with a torn labrum in his right (shooting) shoulder.

8. Atif Russell (Pepperdine)
52.1%, 55.0%, 80.0% = 187.1

Russell (9.6 ppg) isn’t among the three Waves averaging double figures, but his play is one of the reasons why Pepperdine is off to a 7-2 start.

9. Corey Hawkins (UC Davis)
52.5%, 54.2%, 79.5% = 186.2

Already one of the Big West’s best shooters, the senior has improved his percentages across the board from last season and he’s also scored 18 points or more in six of the 7-1 Aggies’ eight games.