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What’s happened to Boo Buie?

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Once the season’s breakout star, the sophomore guard has hit quite the rough patch.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Early Monday morning, I posited this question to my followers.

Former Inside NU managing editor Joe Weinberg quickly responded with the correct answer. This was the one basket sophomore point guard Boo Buie had scored during Northwestern’s three game losing streak, before again finding the bottom of the net in Wednesday night’s loss at Ohio State. However, Buie still finished 1-for-9 from the field in Columbus, and is now a dreadful 2-for-29 overall throughout the team’s four-game skid.

So what’s going on with the Wildcats’ alliteratively named point guard? Why has a player who started the year so stellar now clanking jump shots left and right?

Much of it is the simple principle of regression. Buie was shooting a white hot 50% from three through the first seven games of the season, routinely canning triples whenever a defender foolishly went under a screen or dipped his hand down within Boo’s vicinity. Starting with the loss at Iowa, Buie is 1-for-13 from deep, which has dragged him down to 38.3% on the season. Considering he shot a less-than-ideal 28.2% from deep his freshman season on a hefty sample size of 110 attempts, a near doubling of his three-point percentage for an entire year was too much to ask.

That outlier deep range shooting masked some shortcomings from other areas on the floor, as he was only 15-for-35 (42.9%) on two-point shots in the first seven games, a very poor percentage for attempts taken from inside the arc. But it ultimately didn’t matter, as Buie’s three point accuracy and free throw shooting (80% on 25 total attempts) still managed to lift him to a 63.13 TS% (True Shooting Percentage). For reference, only 258 of the more than 4,500 players in D-I college basketball boast a TS% greater than 63.1, per BartTorvik. In contrast, the 11.71 TS% he’s posted the past four games would place him dead last amongst ALL players in the NCAA to receive at least 40% of their team’s available minutes.

But still, simply hitting a somewhat explainable cold streak can’t explain this sharp of a drop off. I had a suspicion during the first three games of the losing streak that Buie was shooting more and more from the mid range area of the court than he had during the early portions of the season.

To test this out, I watched and charted all of Buie’s 69 field goal attempts during those first seven games. The result is below, with X’s representing misses and O’s signifying makes (excuse the lack of eye candy, I struggled deeply in mandatory middle school art class).

That’s a whole lot of white space in between the paint and the three point arc. In total, I counted only six non-paint two-point attempts (he made only one) as compared to 28 attempts inside and 35 from wayyyy downtown.

Now let’s look at my manual shot chart for Buie’s three performances against Iowa, Michigan and Illinois (prepare your eyeballs for pain).

If you can take your attention away from the minefield of X’s, you’ll see that in just three games Buie has taken nearly the same number of non-paint twos (5) that he had taken in those first seven contests, and that’s not even including those two elbow jumpers in which his feet just barely crossed into the threshold. He’s also completely abandoned the corner three, an odd choice considering he shot a perfect 3-for-3 on right corner treys and 4-for-7 overall when including the right side, an impressive mark albeit on a limited sample.

This isn’t to say Buie should jack up 25-footers like he did several times against Ohio State to the ire of many a Wildcat fan. It’s just more pressing that he wean shots like these — a contested step back with his feet just over the three point line while 14 seconds remain on the shot clock — out from his shot diet.

Even if Buie is a poor at-rim finisher by the numbers, getting all the way to the cup is better for the 6-foot-2 guard than taking jumpers off the dribble with a taller defender contesting him. Against the Buckeyes, Buie managed to maneuver his way to the rim for three shots, all of which he missed (though one should have counted due to a missed goaltending call). However, while he avoided those dastardly middies, he did the opposite of retreat to the short corner threes that he’s been nailing, opting in favor of triples with acres of space separating him and the arc.

I’m okay with players shooting deep threes more than most, but missing several of them in lieu of trying to further attack the opponent’s defense is not the move.

A lot has gone wrong lately for both the sophomore ball handler and Northwestern as a whole. Some of it should have been expected, they were Icarus flying above their heads and too close to the sun that is the best conference in basketball by a country mile. Eventually it had to come down.

But changes can be made in how Buie approaches the game. He’s 3-for-21 on mid-range shots this season, according to BartTorvik (it counts some of those longer paint shots as mid-range), which is a horrendous mark. Getting to the rack more often will raise both his FG% and his free throw attempts, a major key to steadying oneself through shooting woes. Buie shot 25 free throws in the first seven games and has taken just two in the last four games. From behind the line, get back to catch-and-shoot threes closer toward the line, and if possible head for that right corner.

These solutions are all easier said than done, and a lot of it is dependent on team context. Northwestern’s five-out offense hasn’t been humming with the same verve, as openings being processed at slower rates and subsequently poor sequences aren’t being bailed out by tough shot making unless the ball finds its way to Miller Kopp. A more open precise unit should help Buie at least flatten out to a solid level and lift him from this slump. And it better, because life doesn’t get any easier in the Big Ten, and the ‘Cats desperately need the spark plug scorer that helped carry them to a promising 6-1 start.