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One Foot Deeper: Men's Basketball Changes 3-Point Distance Pt 1

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One of the big stories this basketball season will be the supposed effect of the change in the distance of three point line to the hoop. The line was at 19 feet, 9 inches; it's being moved back to 20 feet, 9 inches for all men's NCAA teams (and the women's line will stay the same). Why? From USA Today:

Larry Keating, chairman of the NCAA basketball rules committee, said the distance was lengthened largely because too many threes were being taken (and made) and offenses were relying too much on threes and dunks.

diagram of new 3-point lineCollege ball's great upsets are often propelled by the three point shot. Take, for example, the NIT semifinals. What, you weren't watching U Mass come back on Syracuse in the Carrier Dome? For shame!

The second half featured some simple brilliance from now-Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford - simply let Syracuse get to the hoop, score, and don't foul them. Instead of fighting the inevitable, the Minutemen would race back to their end and take advantage of the 'Cuse's lackadaisical defense and launch threes (or get fouled). And that, my friends across the aisle, is how comebacks are made.

Speculation on the effect ranges from "no effect on shooters at all" to "it will open up the lanes". A couple of perspectives:

+ From Andy Katz’ article, players already take deep threes, so there will be little change. While true, some of those threes were on the line, no matter what they say. And the line change means there will be a little less room, especially near the baselines.

+ Luke Winn has 4 post-line change effects – mid-majors will be hit hard; U Conn and UNC are already interior-focused teams and will not be affected; defenses that force low-percentage twos (more on that later) will thrive; and marginal shooters won’t command respect. I think the mid-majors will be affected, but not irrelevant, but the rest of the assertions are sharp.

+ As for forcing low-percentage twos, this study from Ken Pomeroy of the average shots per game by shot distance from 5 feet out to 30 feet (with field goal percentage as well) in 2007-2008 shows some interesting results. Now, it’s important to note that Pomeroy states that the data is accurate within a couple of feet, meaning that the chart is a hint at on-court accuracy, but not the final word. But we can see that the percentage change between 20 feet and 21 feet seems to be (eyeballed) less that .2%. So a team may force more of those 3-point shots… and the defensive effect may be smaller than one would think.

Will some players simply choose (or be asked on threat of bench splinters) to not shoot that deep shot? Will the players work harder on their shot, and their shot selection? With more spacing for slashers, will the offenses flow like smooth milk over Teflon? Or will the defenses pack it in and make teams hoist low-impact shots from 17-19 feet?

More on this topic, and how it affects St. John's, in the next post.