How the new three-point line will affect the game
Butler didn't waste any time. In the days following the Bulldogs' NCAA tournament loss to Tennessee in March, players returned to Hinkle Fieldhouse and found, "that we had already painted in the new [three-point] line," said coach Brad Stevens. "We wanted to get them adjusted to it as soon as possible." The same transformation has happened this offseason on gym floors across America, as college teams prepare for the expansion of the NCAA's arc from 19 feet, nine inches to 20 feet, nine inches, but the move may matter more at Butler, which relied on the three for a higher percentage of its points (40.8) last season than any other NCAA tournament team. How much the Bulldogs' livelihood will be affected -- and how much impact the longer trey has across the board -- will be the most closely monitored trend of 2008-09.
What not to expect from the one-foot rule is a revolution. As changes go, the 19-9 to 20-9 jump pales in comparison to the addition of the arc itself (in 1986-87), the repeal of the dunking ban ('76-77), or the institution of the NBA's 19-year-old age limit (in '06-07). Those created eras. The impact of this change will be more subtle. Here are four ways it could affect next season:
1. Mid-Majors Will Be Hit The Hardest.
In the narrow context of upsets -- particularly in NCAA-tournament opening-round games -- the three has long been considered the Great Equalizer for David against Goliath. But have we considered how many of the nation's best mid-majors take a season-long approach that's focused on the three-pointer?
Of the 65 teams in last year's NCAA tournament field, these 10 relied on treys for the highest percentage of their points across the entire season:
The top six in the chart above is essentially a collection of many of the nation's best mid-majors. Such a three-point-centric approach makes sense -- size is a scarce commodity that tends to be snatched up by powerhouses, and the smartest little guys often stay competitive on a national level by building collections of shooters who were undervalued on the recruiting trail. At times last season Butler put a lineup of five three-point threats -- seniors Julian Betko, Pete Campbell, A.J. Graves, Mike Green and Drew Streicher -- on the floor and patiently waited for its best look from beyond the arc.
None of these teams are going to abandon the three. As Stevens said, "the really good shooters, who were already making 40 percent, will still be able to make them." But with coaches likely to be more judicious about which players are green-lighted, can a scoring model with more than 35 percent of points coming on treys still be effective over the long-term?
2. The Two Main National Title Contenders are Insulated.
As if North Carolina really needed more of an advantage after having Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green stay out of the NBA draft, the Heels happen to be the team best-built to take advantage of the new line. It was no surprise that when the three-point expansion was announced in 2007, coach Roy Williams said that he was "certainly glad the committee did not widen the lane along with moving the three-point line" -- because his offense is overwhelmingly centered on getting the ball into the lane, while keeping the floor spaced with the threat of shooters such as Ellington and Green.
Despite having gunners in its backcourt, Carolina scored a lower percentage of its points from beyond the arc than any other NCAA tournament team last season. Just 18.8 percent of the Heels' points came on threes, while 59.9 percent came on twos and 21.4 came from the free-throw line. This is what happens when you have the frequently unstoppable Hansbrough camping out in the paint, and the speedy Lawson pushing toward the hoop on the break.
Below are the 10 NCAA tournament teams, beginning with UNC, who relied on the three the least in '08-09:
The No. 2 team on the list above, UConn, is likely to be the No. 2 team behind Carolina in most preseason polls. The Huskies are built in similar fashion, in that guards A.J. Price and Jerome Dyson need to be guarded beyond the arc -- but they would much rather score via penetration or feeds to big men Jeff Adrien and Hasheem Thabeet. Doubling-down on that duo will only be more difficult with the new three-point line. The rich keep getting richer.