Saturday, June 27, 2009

The 3 Point Line -- How Winn Called the Offense

Before 19-0 Became 20-0...
Late last spring the NCAA announced the 3 point line for the 2009 season would be moved back a foot. SI's Luke Winn penned a detailed analysis on the implications of the rules change, identifying along the way, about 30+ teams (3 Big East squads would, according to Winn, be affected directly or indirectly) that could founder or thrive from the change. Winn considered the implications, and sorted 40 (or so) tournament teams...

1. Losers -- teams that rely on 3 point-oriented offenses will suffer -- Winn identified mid-majors as a groups that would be hit hardest because they tended to rely more on the 3 point shot as a equalizer against high-major squads. In a 1 - 2 possession game this can be crucial.
2. Winners -- teams that utilize 3 point scoring very little -- 2009's early favorites, North Carolina and Connecticut (listed among the 10 lowest 3 point shooting teams) have offenses that don't rely much on points from the 3 point line.
3. Winners -- teams adept at defending the 3 point line -- will force teams a foot farther back when taking that shot. Pomeroy's research suggested there is a "dead zone" about 17½ to 19 feet from the basket where teams who shoot from that zone assume the liability of a 3 point shot without the benefit of an extra point.
4. Losers -- teams (and individuals) who can't hit the 3FGA consistently -- defenders can cheat against those teams (Pittsburgh had problems hitting the 3 in 2008).

So How Did 3 Point Shooting Offenses Do?
The broad trend is clear (see chart from previous post), Division 1 teams had slightly fewer points from 3FGAs (a decline of 1.5% from 2008) last season. Ken Pomeroy posted a "3 point tracker" at the top of his KenPom Ratings Page which shows a decline, year-over-year, in both 3 pointers made (about -0.9%) and 3 pointers taken as a percentage of all FGAs (about -1.3%). What of the nearly 20 teams from the 2008 season which Winn identified as having offenses that could be affected (for better or worse) by the change? And were, as he asserted, mid-majors (non-BCS conference teams for our discussion) -- as a group -- adversely affected by the change? A quick comparison of year-over-year W/L records yields mixed results.

Portland St.23100.69723100.697

The teams highlighted in green returned to the NCAAs in 2009, while those highlighted in red did not play in the post season beyond their conference tournaments. For Oregon and Vanderbilt, the distance of the 3 point line was the least of their concerns. Both squads lost considerable experience through graduation. As their records reflect, Georgetown and Drake also lost via graduation. Drake had to replace Keno Davis, who moved over to Providence after Tim Welsh was fired, while Georgetown saw 3 seniors graduate and two sophomores transfer out. Consolidating last season's list with the 10 "Most 3 Point Oriented" from 2009's NCAA tournament yields this list...

Point Distribution
Portland St.15.833644.432139.96NCAA
Arizona St.20.218244.232335.622NCAA
Oklahoma St.21.411643.932634.730NCAA
Mississippi St.22.46344.332233.246NCAA
Western Kentucky18.327848.726333.054NCAA
Brigham Young19.023952.615528.4140NCAA

As before, green highlighted teams are repeaters from 2008. As I looked over this 2 year list a few things stood out:

1. If the ranking from year-to-year is about the same, points derived from 3 pointers from this group did decline. In 2008 the highest ranking team (#8 Butler) harvested 40.9% of their points from beyond the arc, while the next 4 (in order Belmont, Drake, Portland St. and American) gathered at least 36% of their points from 3FGMs. In 2009 only Michigan relied on the 3 for more than 36% of their points.
2. In 2008 3 of Winn's top 10 3 point teams (the last 3) hailed from BCS conferences. In 2009 5 of those teams are BCS conference members. In this, it seems for 2009 at least, Winn's call was correct.

Herb Sendak (Arizona State), John Beilein (Michigan) and Rick Pitino (Louisville) are familiar names to those who follow outside shooting teams.

How Did Inside/Low Post Offenses Do?
If "A implies B", is the opposite true -- does "the opposite of A imply the opposite of B"? Winn suggested as much by declaring that teams which most relied on 2s would be least affected by the distance change. His top 10 list (produced below) is almost prescient:

2008 Point Distribution
North Carolina18.833759.9521.499FF 2009
UConn19.733654.8 7525.55FF 2009
Coppin St.20.733056.24223.136
Michigan St.20.932760.1419.0234FF 2009
UCLA21.8 32157.3 2220.8139
San Diego22.131858.41019.5212
Miss. Valley St.22.4 31353.99923.720
Stanford23.4 29955.06321.684CBI
Arkansas23.9 28656.24019.8195

Green highlighted teams returned to the NCAAs in 2009. Aside from those five (three of which made it to the Final Four), only Stanford out of the PAC-10 conference made a post season appearance. Of the ten from the 2008 NCAA tournament, only Connecticut made the list again this season. The Huskies also made the top ten for points from free throws also (which also means they were among the last ten on the points from 3FGMs was Michigan State).

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