Moving Back Arc Brings Small But Meaningful Change
Jan. 23, 2009
CINCINNATI (AP) - Only a foot farther back, the new 3-point line hasn't bothered college players who make their mark launching the game's most rewarded shot.
Teams are shooting it slightly less often, though. And that's noteworthy all by itself.
After watching men's teams attempt and make a record number of 3s the last few years, the NCAA pushed the arc back this season from its original distance of 19 feet, 9 inches. They hoped the move to 20 feet, 9 inches would discourage so many 3-pointers and invigorate the inside power game.
Is it working? Depends on whether you ask someone who's taking the shot or counting how many of them fall. Teams are trying slightly fewer 3-pointers, the first time in years there's been a decline in attempts.
It isn't a huge difference. Teams are attempting an average of 18.42 3-pointers per game, down only slightly from last season's 19.07, an all-time high.
But achieving even a small drop-off was the goal. The guardians of the college game made the change out of concern over the growing reliance on the 3-point shot and congestion under the basket, which negated inside scoring. Coming into this season, the number of 3s attempted per game had increased virtually every year since 1996 in men's Division I.
"Coaches may look and say it doesn't make any difference, but it does make a difference," said Larry Keating, senior associate athletics director at Kansas who was chair of the NCAA men's basketball rules committee that recommended the change in 2007.
The 3-point shooting percentage also has taken a small dip, from 35.23 percent last season to 34.32.
"I guess it's not a big change in one sense," Keating said, "but it is in the sense that for the first time in eight or nine years, the percentage has gone down. In my mind, we've accomplished one of the things we were looking for, and we did it quicker than we thought we'd do it."
When the change was announced, some coaches were concerned that teams would pack in their zone defenses even tighter in an effort to force opponents to shoot from behind the new arc, making it even more difficult to get the ball inside. That hasn't happened, mainly because the game's best shooters quickly adjusted to the new distance.
"I thought actually it would have an impact on the game," Louisville's Rick Pitino said. "I thought people would play more zones, and they have not."
For most coaches, the change has been minimal and manageable.
Bona fide 3-point shooters simply spent the summer honing their shots from one step farther away. Their biggest adjustment was recalibrating their internal GPS systems - players must know where they are on the floor without having to look down to find the arc.
"It's an instinctive thing," Xavier guard B.J. Raymond said. "You don't really look (at the floor). You just catch and shoot. It's a little weird how it is. You judge the distance by your eyes. In the summer, when people were trying to get adjusted to it, it was a little different."
Raymond's 3-point shooting is down this season, from 41 percent to 38 percent, but that's more a reflection of the tighter defense he's seeing as a senior. When Auburn gave him some room on Dec. 3, he went 7-of-9 from behind the arc in an 81-74 win.
The top returning 3-point shooters in the country also have seen their stats slip a bit as defenses single them out. New Mexico's Chad Toppert is down to 43 percent from 48 percent, the second-best percentage in Division I last season; Illinois-Chicago's Josh Mayo is down to 41 percent from 47 percent; Cornell's Ryan Wittman has slipped to 40 percent from 46 percent.
The longer shot has had more impact on players who shoot the 3 only occasionally and aren't skilled marksmen. Coaches had to decide whether to let the marginal shooters keep shooting.
"For the good shooters, it didn't matter," North Carolina State coach Sidney Lowe said. "It's the ones that were average that are still trying to shoot it. And the problem is, they're not shooting it from where the line is - they're shooting it a foot or two beyond that, so it's even a little deeper."
Tennessee's Bruce Pearl was among those who worried the new arc would dramatically change the game. The Volunteers lost JaJuan Smith and Chris Lofton - the Southeastern Conference's career 3-point leader - and have struggled to replace them.
"I think it's had a lot of impact," Pearl said. "It's been a double whammy for us, because of the line moving back and losing all of our best shooters to graduation. It's been a double hit for the Vols."
Teams with proven 3-point shooters have adapted much better.
"We're a pretty good 3-point shooting team, and our number is right about the same as last year," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "I don't see much of an effect right now. It'll be interesting to see when all the information is in at the end of the year, but I think the trend is very minor."
There's been a big change at Duke, where the 3-pointer has been a staple of the offense for the last few years. The Blue Devils were taking 19 3-pointers per game at midseason, down from 24 in 2007-08, and were making 33 percent of them, down from 37 percent last year.
Is it the arc? Coach Mike Krzyzewski sees it as more of a function of his team getting better at defense and rebounding.
"Two years ago, we had to shoot a lot of them or else we weren't going to win any games," Krzyzewski said. "Especially the last two years, because we couldn't turn people over as much and we couldn't rebound, the 3-point shot became a little bit more of a factor to even things out or give us an opportunity to win than it does this year."
When Dayton and Auburn missed their first 29 shots combined from behind the arc on Nov. 28, that extra foot was a prime suspect. In their later games, the Flyers - who went 0-for-24 from behind the arc in their 60-59 overtime win - had trouble shooting from everywhere on the court, putting matters in perspective.
"We're not a good shooting team, so I don't think it has affected us one way or another," Dayton coach Brian Gregory said.
One common complaint from coaches is that the new arc clutters the floor and could confuse some players. NCAA women's teams kept the arc at 19 feet, 9 inches. Some college teams play on floors with a third arc - the NBA line at 23 feet, 9 inches from the basket.
"There are so many lines out there. It's like a playground with hopscotch courts all over the place," Gregory said.
One thing is clear: The small change isn't going to diminish the importance of the 3-point shot.
"The 3-point shot really made strategy much different than what it was way back, and probably made it more fun because you're never really out of a game," said Miami University coach Charlie Coles, who teaches a class on basketball. "It's not going to change that, not right now."