Three-Point Line Move: Effect on WVU and College Hoops
The move of the men’s 3-point line back to 22 feet, 1 3/4 inches won’t have a big effect on college basketball. Unless it does.
OK, so that’s a wishy-washy statement that covers both possibilities. That’s based, though, on two very different scenarios that could play out when the new lines are laid down on Division I college courts this summer in preparation for play this fall.
The first outcome could be that the distance change, an increase of just 16 3/4 inches, won’t mean much to players who have grown accustomed to firing the ball up from downtown. As the popularity of the three has increased, and young hoopsters have grown up emulating not only guards like Steph Curry, but bigs like Kevin Durant launching from well behind the stripe, added distance has become less of a problem.
Numbers from the last time the line was moved back bear that view out. In the 2008-09 season, a foot was added to the 19-foot, 9-inch distance, and shooting percentages from beyond the new arc dropped by less than one percent. That factor may have played in to the very quick move from proposal to implementation of the new line this year.
“I think it’s being moved now in part because they saw how little things changed the last time they moved it,” WVU assistant coach Ron Everhart said. “Looking back to that 2008 season, the move didn’t affect the shooting a lot in terms of percentage. ”
Everhart and WVU’s coaches have been considering how the change will affect West Virginia both offensively and defensively, and there is another aspect of many threes that are being taken which point toward a smaller effect instead of a larger one.
“If you look at the way most games are played now, the shots that are ‘toes on the line’ are fewer,” the Fairmont, West Virginia native said. “More shots are deeper behind the line anyway.”
Data from last year’s NIT, which used the deeper line, show that it didn’t affect teams from taking shots, but did have a bit bigger percentage impact. This year’s NIT teams averaged 23.1 threes per game, as opposed to the 22.8 tallied by all squads in the 2018-19 regular season. Success rates dropped, though, from 35.2% to 33%.
Coaches will certainly be watching for the effects of of the longer shot on their offensive sets, but for now Everhart is in the majority who don’t believe it will have a huge effect.
If it does, though, it could change offensive emphasis for some teams, especially thost that already struggle with deep shots. That would seem to include WVU, which made just 31.6% of its tries a year ago and lost some of its best, relatively speaking, distance shooters. With more post and close-to-the-basket players on this year’s roster, the emphasis could well be on good passing, rather than shooting, from the perimeter to get the ball to the big men near the bucket.
Defensively, Everhart believes the difference could be more pronounced.
“I do think it will affect how we defend, because we have to be cautious about not being so spread out, he said. “But the way we try to guard and keep the ball on one side of floor, that won’t hurt us.”
That’s true, assuming WVU can execute that plan. A year ago, many Mountaineers couldn’t keep a dribbler in front of him or prevent straight drives at the bucket, much less cut down the floor and keep the ball on one side. With more space to defend between 3-line and the rim, the task just got a bit tougher.
Key to West Virginia’s defensive approach, as well as to schemes like the pack line that jam up drives, is ball pressure. Even with the extra space that must be covered to close out on shooters behind the line, defenders can still make it tough on offenses by keeping ballhandlers from getting clean looks and finding open teammate.
“It all comes down to ball pressure,” Everhart confirmed. “Teams that play that are telling you to beat us from the 3-point line. They may try to adjust to teams that have more good shooters, and play a little more off those that don’t shoot as well.”
In the end analysis, there will be a lot riding on that extra 16 inches of space. Will it cause percentages to drop more preciptously than in the past? Will the extra coverage open up more opportunities for drives, and more passes into the post? Will the additional recovery time required to close out on 3-point shooters, or scramble back to double down on post players, give them the extra split second they need to get open looks? Across the country, coaches are wrestling with those questions now, with the results to play out on the court beginning in November.