As a basketball coach, you're not supposed to be able to control whether or not your team's shots go in the basket. Yes, you can influence what types of shot attempts your players record, and certainly that will have an impact on your team's degree of accuracy. But at the moment a shot is released from the perimeter, a coach is, ultimately, a spectator just like the rest of us.
Anyway, that's the theory. Then there's Jay Wright.
When Villanova began its current streak of incredible shooting accuracy in 2013-14, its starters were James Bell, Darrun Hilliard, Ryan Arcidiacono, Daniel Ochefu and JayVaughn Pinkston. Today, those players are Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo, Phil Booth and Eric Paschall. In between those two eras, guys like Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins came and went. The common denominator across all those teams has been that their shots have gone in the basket.
Last season, Villanova was the most accurate 2-point shooting team I've ever tracked in major-conference play. The Wildcats converted 60.7 percent of their attempts inside the arc during the 18-game Big East season. Conversely, the next best such figure is the 57.2 that UCLA recorded under Ben Howland in 2009-10 in what was then the Pac-10. Villanova didn't just set a record, the Wildcats demolished all previous benchmarks.
This season, Wright's men are at it again. Bridges and Brunson, for example, have shot a combined 67 percent on their 2s and 51 percent on their 3s during their team's 8-0 start. That'll do.
The midrange game is a 'lost art' for a reason
Part of Villanova's success in this area is attributable, of course, to smart shot selection. Thanks to the data gathered by hoop-math.com, we can chart the evolution of Wright's teams in terms of the locations on the floor where they're recording their shot attempts.
As recently as 2011-12, the Wildcats were a plain-vanilla, Division I team with relation to the share of their shots that were low-efficiency 2-point jumpers. Villanova ranked No. 181 in the country that season for fewest 2-point jumpers, launching about a third of their attempts from inside the arc but away from the basket.
By 2013-14, however, that ranking had jumped all the way to No. 25 in Division I, as Wright's team devoted just a fifth of its attempts to 2-point jumpers. To an extent, Villanova is converting 2s at a high rate through the simple expedient of launching those shots closer to the basket than before.
Still, the top of the national rankings for fewest 2-point jumpers are fairly strewn with teams that don't necessarily shoot as well as the Wildcats do. Last season, the major-conference teams that did the best job of staying away from midrange jumpers were Virginia Tech, Xavier and Utah.
Sure enough, the Hokies and the Utes were indeed excellent shooting teams in 2016-17. (Meanwhile, the Musketeers' commendable shot selection was somewhat offset by the fact that they were an average 3-point-shooting team.) Nevertheless, what has tended to set Villanova apart has been not so much the shots the Wildcats don't take as the fact that they're so good at making the ones they do take.
Scoring at the rim can, apparently, be learned
Wright's players converted 72 percent of their tries at the rim last season, the fourth-best such figure in the nation. Good shot selection helps, but it's the ability to score at the rim added to excellent 3-point shooting that really makes Villanova a paragon of accuracy.
These abilities appear to be skills that are developed more than they are talents that are found by Wright. Redshirt freshmen Omari Spellman, for example, is having a rocky start to his college career on offense. Despite a listed height of 6-foot-8, Spellman has made just 36 percent of his 2s and is shooting 39 percent at the rim.
Recent history suggests those two numbers of Spellman's will climb, if not skyrocket, as the freshman follows the well-trodden Villanova path of shot-making dos and don'ts. In the meantime, Wright is content (and correct) to find minutes for Spellman if for no other reason than the excellent rim defense the freshman already supplies.
A shootout at the Jimmy V Classic?
Nor is Wright the only coach finding that shooting accuracy can be held surprisingly stable from season to season. (I see you, Buzz Williams.) In fact, Villanova's next opponent is a regular Wildcat doppelganger: Gonzaga has also been a fixture atop the Division I rankings for shotmaking the past few seasons.
The 2017-18 season is young, of course, but it's particularly impressive that the Bulldogs are, so far, shooting just as well as the Wildcats once again. Mark Few lost a host of talent from last season's team, up to and including Nigel Williams-Goss, Przemek Karnowski, Zach Collins and Jordan Mathews. Yet the Zags are once again making their shots this season, led in that department by Josh Perkins and Killian Tillie.
Sadly, then, fans of rebounding might be disappointed when Villanova and Gonzaga collide at the Jimmy V Classic in Madison Square Garden. There might not be that many missed shots that night. Coaches such as Wright, Few and their ilk are breaking new ground in consistent cross-roster accuracy.