College basketball: Good teams that could improve by shooting more 3s
Every team listed below made the NCAA tournament last season. That said, every one can get better, too.
One way they can improve is by expanding their offensive attacks. And one way they can do that, specifically, is by taking more 3s.
That’s not a one-size-fits-all method for progress. Some successful teams rarely venture beyond the arc, nor should they, based on their personnel.
But these schools have enough perimeter firepower to move the needle.
Here are five squads that could stand to shoot more 3s:
Kentucky consistently overwhelms foes with freakish athleticism, strength and defensive IQ. Even though the Wildcats are competent offensively, they could make life easier on themselves with more space.
The best way to create space is by taking and making more 3s.
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Yet he could have been even better if Kentucky was less predictable on offense. The Wildcats shot 35.3 percent from 3, a hair above the Division I average. But they attempted 3s on only 31.6 percent of their possessions, which ranked 288th. Of course, the devil’s advocate might ask, “Besides Malik Monk, who, exactly, should have shot more 3s?”
For starters, yes, Monk could have attempted more. He took seven per game and made 40 percent. Just about any Monk 3-point attempt was a net positive for Kentucky, so the more, the merrier. Derek Willis (38 percent) could have jacked more than his 3.4 per night. Mychal Mulder (37) could have averaged more than 10.6 minutes. UK scored 117.7 points per 100 possessions with Mulder on the floor. Isaiah Briscoe, who saw most of the minutes at his position, finished with an offensive rating of 105.1.
Briscoe was clearly the better defender. Still, perhaps John Calipari could have sacrificed some defense for offense. Kentucky ranked 12th in offense and fourth in defense. Maintain that defense and shoot into the top five in scoring this year, and the Wildcats will be in the national title hunt.
As usual, Kentucky has a bunch of new faces. But if the Cats are even an average shooting team, they’d improve if they ranked somewhere in the middle of the pack in deep attempts.
Louisville and Kentucky play similar styles. They give opposing offenses fits thanks to sound coaching and raw size and athleticism. They grind out points, though it’s not always pretty.
But both teams are at their best when they have 3-point threats. They don’t have to heave as many as, say, Villanova. But the extra element matters.
Louisville made 35.5 percent of its 3s and finished 279th in attempts. Of its returning players, Quentin Snider (38 percent), Deng Adel (35) and V.J. King (42) are the top snipers. King averaged only 13.5 minutes a game.
That number should skyrocket with Donovan Mitchell’s departure. In turn, Louisville will likely take and make more 3s. Mitchell was one of the most athletic players in the land, a shooting guard in a running back’s body who could beat just about anyone off of the dribble. To his credit, he took 6.6 3s per game. He wasn’t always accurate, but his persistence helped keep defenses honest.
Louisville will miss his shot creation and all-world defense, but the Cards will be more accurate from deep if King plays more.
The best offense Louisville has recently had under Rick Pitino was in 2013-14, when it finished seventh. The Cardinals made 37 percent of their 3s and ranked in the top half of the nation in attempts. Of course, personnel is key. That team had Russ Smith, Terry Rozier, Chris Jones and Luke Hancock. All could shoot.
Louisville hasn’t finished in the Top 20 in offense since then. A small philosophy shift could help.
Gonzaga was awesome last season. Just about any critique of their season is nitpicking.
The Bulldogs finished 15th in offense. That’s a solid number, but Gonzaga’s 37 wins had more to do with its top-ranked defense than its offense. The Zags made 38.2 percent of their 3s (good for 42nd), but finished 258th in attempts.
Again, some of this is a function of style. The Bulldogs’ best players were bigs. You don’t want to take away touches from Przemek Karnowski, Zach Collins and Johnathan Williams if you don’t have to. Gonzaga lived in the paint, as it should have.
That said, the Bulldogs may have been even better had the math shifted a bit. Maybe Gonzaga could have finished, say, 200th in attempts? Jordan Mathews (39 percent) was a knockdown shooter. Josh Perkins (40) and Silas Melson (39) were excellent, too.
Last season was the best in Gonzaga history. Besides the final game, there’s not much you’d want to change.
But perhaps an uptick in 3-point attempts could have landed the Bulldogs in the Top 10 in offense. In a sport that’s so competitive across the board, every point matters.
Baylor is fresh off a 27-win season in which it didn’t have a clear weakness. The offense finished 23rd; the defense, 16th. The Bears made it to the Sweet 16 after a few years of March disappointment.
Like these other teams, though, maybe Baylor could have bridged the gap between its offense and defense with some offensive diversity. The Bears made 35.3 percent of their 3s (157th) and ranked 257th in attempts. Baylor’s starting backcourt of Manu Lecomte and Al Freeman hovered around 40 percent from range all year.
Freeman is gone, but Lecomte returns. Expect Scott Drew to grant him even more freedom as a senior. Lecomte hit 2.2 3s per game, and with Freeman, Johnathan Motley and Ish Wainright gone, this is his show. His efficiency may dip, but Baylor will be better if Lecomte takes around seven 3s per game. He’s accurate spotting up and off the dribble. The latter is crucial given everything Baylor loses — the ability to shoot 3s off of the pick-and-roll makes him extremely tough to defend.
Motley was one of the best interior players in the country. It made sense to feed him the rock at will. Without Motley, Baylor will have to become more perimeter-oriented. But that's OK. Baylor might not win as many games as last season, but it shouldn’t slip as much as people think. Jake Lindsey (40 percent) figures to see more playing time and will give Lecomte help, so Baylor will have a superb shooting backcourt once again.
Virginia was its usual efficient self last season. The Cavaliers made 38.5 percent of their triples, ranking 29th. They attempted 3s on only 33 percent of their possessions, though, which ranked 252nd.
Some of that is by design. Virginia wants to muck things up. Take a bunch of 3s early in the shot clock and it messes with Tony Bennett’s system. Missed 3s mean transition opportunities, which are the last things UVA wants. The Cavs would rather set a bunch of cross-screens and swing the ball around the arc. Virginia wears out opposing defenses that way. The Cavs are confident they can win that battle of attrition over 40 minutes.
Like the rest of these teams, Virginia shouldn’t change its identity. But it could play with a little more aggression by taking more 3s. The grind-it-out style works against most foes. The best schools, though, can play multiple styles. Virginia hasn’t proven it can do so.
The Cavaliers have good shooters. Kyle Guy made almost 50 percent from 3 as a freshman. He’ll be a focal point of the offense as a sophomore. Ty Jerome (40 percent) and Devon Hall (37) will see heavy minutes. Without a Joe Harris, Justin Anderson or Malcolm Brodgon-like bruiser, Virginia will need to emphasize the 3-point line in order to make up that offense.
Virginia has the personnel. We’ll see just how daring Bennett and his coaching staff will be.