College basketball teams taking more 3-pointers than ever
The Golden State Warriors took the NBA by storm with their willingness to shoot 3-pointers from anywhere, at any time. They won a title, played for another and changed the way teams think about the 3.
The precedent was set in college basketball, where current Louisville coach Rick Pitino set the trend and the rest followed.
''Rick Pitino went to it right away, but everybody else didn't,'' Villanova coach Jay Wright said. ''Gradually, everyone's realizing the effect and power of that shot.''
Pitino, then coaching at Providence, embraced the 3-point shot immediately after it was added to college basketball in 1986. The Friars went to the 1987 Final Four behind sharpshooter Billy Donovan and their ability to knock down the 3.
Though teams were reluctant to follow suit at first, the 3-point shot became a viable weapon in college basketball. Smaller teams saw it as a way to compete with bigger, more athletic teams, while the teams with big frontcourts like the 3 to help space the court.
The percentage of shots taken from the 3-point arc reached an all-time high during the 2015-16 season, with teams combining for 35.4 percent. Three of the four schools that reached the Final Four attempted more than 40 percent of their shots from behind the arc: National champion Villanova (42), Syracuse (42) and Oklahoma (40).
''Contested 2-point shots don't win games in college or the NBA,'' said Northern Arizona coach Jack Murphy, an advance scout for the NBA's Denver Nuggets from 2006-09. ''So I just think you're seeing a lot more teams play smaller or play with more capable 4-men.''
The trend in the college game makes sense.
The NBA 3-point arc is 23 feet, 9 inches from the basket, while the NCAA line is 19-9. The shorter shot is not only easier to make, it broadens the range of players who can hit it.
Zone defense is far more prevalent in college, creating opportunities for teams to shoot over the top or work the ball inside and kick out to shooters.
College basketball also has a much wider range of talent; a skinny, pure shooter might be able to thrive in the college game, but usually has no shot at playing in the NBA.
And there's this: Outscoring your opponent takes a lower shooting percentage from 3-point range than inside the arc.
''The one thing: One out of three 3s equals one out of two 2s,'' Arizona coach Sean Miller said. ''You think about that. If you're a 37 percent 3-point shooter, that doesn't necessarily get anybody excited, but if you take good 3s and you make 37 percent, that's a good shot for your team. Because 1 of 2 from 2, everybody signs up for 50 percent from 2.''
It's more than just the way the college game is set up. A transformation of skill sets contributed.
Almost since the inception of the game, coaches took their biggest players, parked them near the basket and left them there so they could shoot from close range.
As the game evolved, so did the aspirations of the biggest players on the court.
Instead of just catching the ball in the post and shooting hook shots, they wanted to be ballhandlers and perimeter shooters. These big kids worked on their skills and, after years of resistance, their coaches began to help them.
The tallest players often arrived on college campuses with an entirely new cache of skills and coaches embraced it, using their ability to shoot the ball to stretch defenses.
''You're seeing a lot more thought put into coaching on the youth level,'' Murphy said. ''They're putting kids in positions where they can handle the ball and shoot perimeter shots. I mean, the national championship was won by a 3-point-shooting big man. That's just what you're seeing in the game.''
That big man was Villanova's Kris Jenkins.
The 6-foot-6, 235-pound forward is a bruiser inside, but also has deep range on the perimeter. Last April, he hit one of the most dramatic shots in NCAA Tournament history, pulling up without hesitation for a long 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Wildcats a 77-74 victory over North Carolina.
The Wildcats' philosophy won't change with their title defense, either.
''I'm OK with 38 to 40 percent,'' Wright said. ''That's good for us.''
Based upon the statistics, so are many other coaches.
AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston in Philadelphia contributed to this story.