“Live by the 3, die by the 3” is a phrase you’ll likely hear during March Madness. But is there a benefit to picking a team that shoots a lot of 3s? Should you stay away? We looked at the last 15 years of NCAA tournaments. Here are the three things you should absolutely keep in mind when you make your picks:
1. Picking a team that likes to shoot 3s doesn't improve your odds.
2. Your Cinderella pick for the second weekend shouldn't be a team in love with the 3.
3. If you must pick a team that loves 3s, go with a Top-4 seed to be safe.
Allow us to explain.The table below contains stats from the three teams in each tournament that attempted the most 3s per game during the season. For some years, because of ties, there are more than three teams, which in the end is good because it’s more data!
Here’s the year-by-year look:
|Year||Seed||Team||3PA/G Rank||3P% Rank||NCAAT Finish|
|2004||16||Florida A&M||T-10th||149th||Round of 64|
|2004||3||NC State||T-10th||157th||Round of 32|
|2004||7||Memphis||T-10th||106th||Round of 32|
|2004||1||St. Joe's||T-10th||4th||Elite 8|
|2005||7||West Virginia||T-3rd||99th||Elite 8|
|2005||14||Niagara||T-5th||114th||Round of 64|
|2005||13||Vermont||T-7th||115th||Round of 32|
|2006||6||West Virginia||2nd||168th||Sweet 16|
|2006||10||NC State||6th||64th||Round of 32|
|2006||15||Davidson||T-7th||69th||Round of 64|
|2006||14||South Alabama||T-7th||78th||Round of 64|
|2007||13||Davidson||T-8th||82nd||Round of 64|
|2007||15||Belmont||T-12th||145th||Round of 64|
|2008||15||Belmont||4th||111th||Round of 64|
|2008||5||Drake||T-9th||95th||Round of 64|
|2008||7||Butler||T-9th||56th||Round of 32|
|2009||10||Michigan||T-3rd||194th||Round of 32|
|2009||13||Portland State||T-6th||33rd||Round of 64|
|2009||8||Oklahoma State||T-15th||25th||Round of 32|
|2010||7||Oklahoma State||T-11th||139th||Round of 64|
|2010||9||Louisville||T-11th||194th||Round of 64|
|2010||13||Houston||T-19th||103rd||Round of 64|
|2010||14||Sam Houston State||T-19th||57th||Round of 64|
|2010||12||New Mexico State||T-19th||55th||Round of 64|
|2011||13||Belmont||T-6th||32nd||Round of 64|
|2011||4||Louisville||T-10th||87th||Round of 64|
|2011||7||Washington||T-10th||53rd||Round of 32|
|2012||8||Iowa State||T-11th||54th||Round of 32|
|2012||14||Belmont||T-11th||37th||Round of 64|
|2012||4||Michigan||T-11th||136th||Round of 64|
|2012||13||Davidson||T-11th||208th||Round of 64|
|2012||16||Mississippi Valley State||T-11th||257th||First Four|
|2013||10||Iowa State||2nd||42nd||Round of 32|
|2013||7||Illinois||T-8th||256th||Round of 32|
|2013||5||VCU||T-13th||110th||Round of 32|
|2014||2||Villanova||T-6th||120th||Round of 32|
|2014||16||Mount St. Mary's||T-6th||126th||First Four|
|2014||3||Creighton||T-6th||1st||Round of 32|
|2015||10||Davidson||T-2nd||21st||Round of 64|
|2015||15||Belmont||7th||46th||Round of 64|
|2015||13||Eastern Washington||T-15th||8th||Round of 64|
|2015||7||VCU||T-15th||175th||Round of 64|
|2016||13||Iona||T-8th||65th||Round of 64|
|2016||11||Michigan||T-24th||38th||Round of 64|
|2017||9||Vanderbilt||T-14th||66th||Round of 64|
|2017||12||UNC-Wilmington||T-14th||100th||Round of 64|
|2017||12||Princeton||T-14th||61st||Round of 64|
|2018||8||Creighton||T-11th||T-57th||Round of 64|
|2018||12||Davidson||T-11th||T-26th||Round of 64|
|2018||13||Marshall||T-11th||T-152nd||Round of 32|
Some lessons from the numbers:
1. Of these 61 teams, two exited in the First Four, 30 exited in the Round of 64, and 15 exited in the Round of 32, meaning 77.1 percent of these teams failed to reach the second weekend.
Considering how many Round of 64 teams don't make it to the Sweet 16, this shouldn't be a surprising number. But if you're picking teams that shoot a lot of 3s, you're doing it because you want an edge that follows a modern basketball trend.
The numbers seem to suggest that edge doesn't exist.
Lesson 1: Statistically speaking, you probably shouldn’t pick high-volume, 3-point-shooting teams to go very far.
2. Of the 14 teams to reach the second weekend, seven were Top-4 seeds, and 12 were Top-8 seeds, the two exceptions being Steph Curry’s Davidson team in 2008 and Cornell, the best 3-point shooting team in the country, in 2010.
The thing is, there have been some really good high-volume, 3-point-shooting, Bottom-8 teams in the last 15 years:
- In 2009, 13-seed Portland State was 33rd in the country in 3P% and lost in the Round of 64.
- In 2012, 14-seed Belmont was 37th in the country in 3P% and lost in the Round of 64.
- In 2010, the same year as Cornell’s magical run, 14-seed Sam Houston State and 12-seed New Mexico State both ranked Top 60 in the country in 3P%… and both lost in the Round of 64.
Lesson 2: Statistically speaking, you probably shouldn’t make your Cinderella pick a high-volume 3-point-shooting team.
3. Even the best teams in the tournament, the Top-4 seeds from each region, have a hard time going far when they shoot lots of 3s.
Of the 14 Top-4 seeds we looked at, five did not make it to the Sweet 16, and only one — Villanova in 2016 and 2018 — has won a championship.
But four of the 14 did reach the Final Four, so…
Lesson 3: Statistically speaking, if you want to pick a team that lives by the 3, you should go with a Top 4 seed.
But beware! Even the highest-seeded, most-accurate, 3-point-loving teams in the tournament might go cold and break your heart. After all, this is March.