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Talk hoops all year long in Luke Winn's blog, a journal of commentary, news and reader-driven discussions about the college game.
12/20/2006 12:27:00 PM

Long-Distance Numbers

It's been a week, I know ... but the blog took a nice vacation, and now hopes to be with you, steadily, for the rest of the season. Today's column (in non-blog-space) handed out Early Warnings to eight teams who haven't been up to snuff on D, postulating that unless they make significant strides in the defensive efficiency department, the chances of making the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament are extremely slim.

I wanted to throw out another crack theory here -- this one dealing with three-point shooting. More spefically, at what point does a high reliance on the trey become unhealthy? From kenpom.com's point-distribution data, here are the percentages of points scored on 3s by the past three groups of Final Four teams:

Florida: 28.4
LSU: 16.7
UCLA: 26.8
George Mason: 25.4

North Carolina: 25.5
Illinois: 34.4
Michigan State: 25.4
Louisville: 35.7

UConn: 24.3
Georgia Tech: 27.5
Duke: 26.7
Oklahoma State: 18.3

The figures vary widely, from LSU at just 16.7 percent, to Louisville and Illinois both in the mid-30s. There isn't a strict "three-point profile" for Final Four team. Now let's look the most three-point reliant teams to reach the Elite Eight in each of the past three years:

2004: St. Joe's, 37.9 percent
2005: West Virginia, 38.3 percent
2006: Villanova, 35.3 percent

Both St. Joe's and West Virginia came agonizingly close to a Final Four trip, with the '04 Hawks losing by two to Oklahoma State, and the '05 Mountaineers falling in overtime to Louisville. So it does seem possible -- albeit unlikely -- that a team with such a high reliance on three-pointers could reach the tournament's final weekend. But has any team in the past three years had significant postseason success by scoring even more points on 3s than West Virginia did in 2005?

To me, 38.3 percent is the threshold -- anything higher, and it's difficult to: 1) reach the big dance; and 2) be consistent enough to string together more than one hot weekend. Many of the same teams fall above or around that mark year after year -- especially those that run versions of the Princeton offense -- but it's worth noting that in the case of the Mountaineers, their tourney run occurred in the season when they shot the fewest treys. Despite this fact, the number of three-point-happy teams seems to be growing:

Six teams were above 38.3 in 2003-2004, and only one, Air Force, went to the NCAA tournament (and lost in the first round):

Samford: 44.1 (8-16)
Air Force: 42.3 (22-6)
Troy State: 41.2 (23-5)
Belmont: 40.7 (20-8)
Butler: 26.6 (15-14)
St. Francis N.Y.: 38.8 (15-13)

Seven teams were above 38.3 in 2004-2005, none reaching the NCAAs:

Troy: 45.1 (11-18)
Air Force: 43.6 (17-12)
Samford: 41.6 (13-13)
Belmont: 41.6 (14-16)
Vanderbilt: 39.9 (18-13)
Butler: 38.7 (11-15)
Notre Dame: 38.6 (17-11)

Eight teams were about 38.3 in 2005-2006, with two -- regulars West Virginia and Air Force -- making the NCAAs. The Falcons lost in the first round, while the Mountaineers bowed out in the Sweet 16.

Samford: 52.1 (18-11)
Troy: 47.6 (11-15)
Princeton: 44.9 (12-14)
West Virginia: 43.2 (21-11)
Air Force: 42.1 (22-7)
Butler: 39.9 (19-12)
New Hampshire: 39.2 (12-17)
Fresno State: 38.5 (15-13)

So far in 2006-2007, there are 20 teams above 38.3, some low-majors no doubt there because their undersized big men had little chance of scoring against BCS-conference monsters in guarantee games. Others, like West Virginia (46.3!) and Houston (41.7) are alarmingly high:

West Virginia: 46.3
Wofford: 44.9
Bradley: 43.8
Lipscomb: 43.1
VMI: 43.0
Navy: 42.9
Princeton: 42.1
Houston: 41.7
Gardner Webb: 41.4
Pepperdine: 40.6
Lafayette: 40.3
Chattanooga: 40.2
Air Force: 39.7
Charlotte: 39.4
St. Peter's: 39.2
UMKC: 39.1
Idaho State: 39.0
Hartford: 38.8
Samford: 38.7
Charleston Southern: 38.5

Realistically, there's only one team on that list -- Air Force -- that's a solid bet to be in the NCAA tournament come March. And should the Falcons run into a team that defends well on the perimeter, I'm not sure if I'll have much faith in them advancing.
posted by Luke Winn | View comments |  


Posted: 7:08 PM   by Case
What is the lower bound for three point
proficiency? For example a lack of 3 point shooting killed B.C. last year. In my opinion if you are not getting a solid contribution from perimeter shooters
a team is worse off than a team that relies heavily on the three point shot.
Posted: 7:02 PM   by Anonymous
If I remember correctly, the 2001 National Champion Duke team relied heavily on their 3-point shooting after Carlos Boozer's injury- I'd be interested in finding out just how high a proportion of their overall points was comprised of 3 point baskets
Posted: 8:12 AM   by Anonymous
As long as Lorenzo Charles is close to the basket, go ahead and heave that desparation trey.
Posted: 7:15 AM   by Anonymous
Fresno State was not eligible for post season play in 2005-2006.
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