Supposedly the easiest shot in basketball, the layup isn’t always a gimme. In fact, only a little more than half of shots described as layups in college basketball end up going through the hoop.
Most are contested by one or more defenders, and even the ones that aren’t don’t go in all the time. Just ask Perry Ellis, who missed a breakaway lay-in at the buzzer in Kansas’ one-point loss to West Virginia on Monday night — after, of course, a layup by the Mountaineers.
Lots of players around the country could empathize with Ellis — none more than Furman’s Stephen Croone, who on a single possession of a November game against Duke botched a fast-break dunk and two uncontested layups.
No, those shots from 0 to 3 feet from the basket are not to be taken for granted.
Not all layups are the same. Misses are understandable when they come in traffic against a good defense. The ones that churn in the guts of coaches are the wide-open misses, particularly when the shooter goes for style points and doesn’t use the backboard.
“You don’t want to go to a high school game and watch pregame layups. Oh, my goodness, that will drive you crazy,” Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore said. “They’ll do the two-line layup drill, and you’ll watch them shoot 50 percent. It’s a spin, it’s a flick. No one is out there making sure kids are doing layups the right way.”
Failure to convert more difficult layups can be frustrating, too. Notre Dame must still regret what, according to the official play-by-play sheet, were misses on 20 of 25 layups in a six-point loss to Virginia last month. After his team beat Michigan by 10 points in overtime, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo lamented 10 missed layups, including several easy ones.
“You’re not going to be a great team if you miss those,” Izzo said, adding that he planned to emphasize layups at the next practice.
As of midweek, Minnesota was making a nation-best 74.3 percent of its layups, with Iowa State and Wyoming the only other teams at 70 percent or better, according to Jeff Haley, who runs the website Hoop-Math.com.
Forty teams were making fewer than half, with Morgan State last, at 43.9 percent. The numbers Haley provided to The Associated Press excluded dunks and tip-ins.
The rate across Division I is 55.3 percent. It’s 57.9 percent in the NBA, according to STATS.
Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt said it’s harder to make layups at the college level than in the NBA because defenses can pack the lane. The NBA has rules preventing defenses from doing that.
“Somebody on the outside thinks a young man should have made a layup,” Shyatt said, “but if the player was attacking the basket and saw some large man near the basket, that’s an affected play.”
Shyatt credits his players’ recognition of their strengths for the Cowboys’ high layup percentage. The 6-foot-9 Derek Cooke Jr., is shooting 75 percent from the field, with most of his attempts close to the basket, and his teammates know how to get him the ball.
Quinnipiac’s layup accuracy is second-worst in the nation, at 45.3 percent. The Bobcats are second nationally in offensive rebounding, and Moore said their effort to get to the glass can lead to occasionally wild shots close to the hoop. Moore argues the definition of layup is too broad.
“If you get a 3-on-2 or 2-on-1 or 3-on-1 and someone makes a nice drop-down pass and it’s a layup, then it’s a layup. Or if it’s a Princeton offense that clears the weak side and a guy goes backdoor and the defense’s rotation doesn’t get there in time, that’s a layup,” Moore said. “The way these stat people define layup — I don’t know if it’s computer-generated — almost any shot near the basket that isn’t a dunk is probably called a layup.”
Moore said he doesn’t excuse his team’s glut of misses.
“It’s as much about coaching at all levels in this country, that we don’t hold guys accountable enough for when they get a shot around the basket,” he said. “Are they just throwing something up because they’re close to the hoop, or are they making a strong definitive move?”
Rich Stoner, who runs a New Jersey basketball training facility for players grade school-aged and older, said young players don’t spend enough time honing the skills to make some of the tougher short shots.
The two-line layup drill accomplishes little, Stoner said, because those half-speed uncontested shots almost never come up in games. Youth coaches, he said, should emphasize drills that force players to create ways to get to the basket against live defenders and through contact. Kids also should play more 1-on-1, he said.
Of course, there always will be missed layups. And some will hurt more than others, like that one by Kansas’ Ellis, who caught a baseball pass in stride and laid the ball off the back of the rim and out as time ran out, leaving the Jayhawks with a 62-61 loss.
“I just missed it, man,” Ellis said.
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