A lot of people have roundly criticized Darius Miller for the next-to-last play against the Mississippi Rebels in Oxford earlier this week. Miller famously declined a wide-open three-point look with six seconds left on the game clock that could have been the difference-maker. Miller later apologized in a tweet to the Big Blue Nation for the way he played that game.
I won't be defending Miller's overall play, which I agree was not his best effort. But I think I have an explanation for why Miller didn't take that three point shot that even he might not even realize, or be willing to explain.
First of all, let's look at where Miller was on the floor -- dead in the right corner. Now, anyone who has played a lot of basketball can tell you that every player has favorite spots to shoot from on the floor, and it's pretty obvious to anyone who watches the Wildcats where the shooters' favorite spots are. Brandon Knight loves to shoot from three inside the lane extended. You don't see him shoot many shots from the wings, and you rarely see him shoot in the dead corner. That may be as much about running the point as anything else, but that's his tendency.
Doron Lamb loves the corner jump shot. Loves it. The Louisville Cardinal's Kyle Kuric also loves that shot, I think he has his name imprinted on the left corners in the Chicken Ranch. The corner is a special place for shooters, because that's where the depth perception is most difficult and the margin for error is smallest. In spite of that, pure shooters often love the corner because of the way the ball looks going in the basket from there. When you shoot that shot perfectly, it is the cleanest-looking shot in all of basketball. I used to love that shot, but nowadays my depth perception isn't as good and I prefer the wing.
More after the jump.
Miller's tendency is to shoot the three with 30 degrees of the centerline of the court from basket to basket. He is happiest shooting the ball from straight on, which is the area of the court with the most margin for error -- if you are a little long, you get the bank, and if you are short or wide, you have a great shot at the rebound because you can tell where it is going.
The corner, however, is not for everyone. Despite his excellent 3-point percentage, Miller almost never shoots from the dead corner, and my assumption is that it is a spot he does not love, and you have to love the corner to have confidence in that shot. Miller very rarely takes a bad shot, especially from outside, so it's clear that he isn't a conscience-free shooter like Doron Lamb.
I remember Joe Crawford hated the corner jumper, and if he didn't, he should have. About every fourth or fifth game, he would find himself wide open in one corner or the other, elevate, and release a ball perfectly on line and six inches high, airmailing the shot. Air balls are no fun, and the most common place for an air ball is from the dead corner. Crawford must have shot 15 air balls during his career and I'll bet 12 of them were from the corner.
With all that in mind, back to the play. I am confident that a corner three from Miller was not plan A for this particular possession. If that had been Lamb over there, I promise you a shot would have gone up, because Lamb makes that corner three about 60% of the time. But Miller is nothing if not self-aware, and he new the plan, which I suspect was to get something going to the basket.
Assuming that's right, go back and look at the replay of the now-infamous non-shot. Liggins makes a pivot pass to a wide-open Miller from the top of the key, and he and the rest of the team freeze to watch what happens next. Nobody cuts to the basket for the shot Calipari wanted, which was something going to the rim where a foul was likely, or to get the rebound in case Miller missed. Nobody. Instead, everyone just watches Miller as he head fakes, takes a dribble to get closer, and then turns down that look (which would have been a forced shot as he was well defended) and gave up the ball to Liggins who had to heave a weak effort off balance at the rim as the shot clock expired.
Miller may not have made the best call, but his teammates abandoned him on an island. I don't think that was intentional, but it is illustrative. You never stop to spectate when you are in a ball game. If you aren't moving, it's because you are where you are supposed to be, being fouled, or on the ground. The entire team stopped to watch Miller, and Miller clearly expected them to do something. This is the kind of thing you get from a young team sometimes, and in this case, it happened at exactly the wrong time.
I admire Miller for taking the blame, but he surely wasn't the only one who messed up that play.