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Daniel Wilco | | October 30, 2018

3.6 million shots don’t lie: The 3-pointer really does help you win NCAA games

Getty Images Gonzaga basketball Gonzaga has both the highest 3-point percentage and highest win percentage this century. And that's no coincidence.

Last week, we ranked Division I schools by their 3-point performance this century. But does being at the top of that list spell good things for a program? Indeed it does.

We looked at the 3,600,541 total 3-pointers taken since the 2000-01 season (1,249,423 of which were made), and the research shows there is a strong correlation between 3-point success and win-loss percentage.

RELATED: The best 3-point shooting college basketball teams this century

In fact, the two teams with the highest win percentages since the 2000-01 season also had the highest 3-point percentage since then.

The top overall is Gonzaga, which is 509-109 (.824) this century while shooting 38.2 percent from the 3-point line — both the best marks in Division I.

Right behind is Kansas, with a 536-115 (.823) record and a 38.1 percent performance from deep — both good for second place.

Of course there are outliers. Out of 317 teams, Memphis has the 192nd best 3-point percentage (.344), but the seventh-best win percentage (459-168, .732). Southern Utah is the 13th best 3-point shooting team (at .371), yet has only won 36.9 percent of its games (196-339).

But of the 50 most accurate 3-point shooting teams, only 12 have a win percentage below .500 since 2000-01.

School 3P% Win percentage
Gonzaga 0.382 0.824
Kansas 0.381 0.823
Notre Dame 0.379 0.666
Weber State 0.379 0.616
Utah State 0.379 0.686
Duke 0.378 0.816
Creighton 0.377 0.684
Denver 0.376 0.489
Michigan State 0.375 0.719
Arizona 0.372 0.734
Brigham Young 0.372 0.700
Indiana 0.372 0.580
Southern Utah 0.371 0.369
Evansville 0.369 0.461
Marquette 0.368 0.648
Utah 0.367 0.598
Vanderbilt 0.367 0.584
Oregon 0.367 0.639
UC-Irvine 0.367 0.555
Belmont 0.366 0.664
Florida 0.366 0.725
Saint Mary's (CA) 0.366 0.675
Davidson 0.365 0.663
UC-Santa Barbara 0.365 0.559
Montana 0.365 0.596
Oral Roberts 0.365 0.565
UCLA 0.365 0.664
Iona 0.365 0.568
Air Force 0.365 0.482
New Mexico 0.365 0.632
Lafayette 0.364 0.423
Portland 0.364 0.406
Akron 0.364 0.623
Drake 0.364 0.446
Samford 0.364 0.451
Eastern Washington 0.363 0.493
Princeton 0.363 0.583
Iowa State 0.363 0.585
Northern Arizona 0.363 0.445
Green Bay 0.362 0.538
Stanford 0.362 0.630
Xavier 0.361 0.713
Butler 0.361 0.703
Wofford 0.361 0.517
Murray State 0.361 0.685
Baylor 0.361 0.593
Southeast Missouri State 0.361 0.382
Villanova 0.360 0.712
Ohio State 0.360 0.706
Western Illinois 0.360 0.347

Still, that’s only looking at 3-point percentage, which doesn’t offer a complete picture of how good a team is at 3-point shooting, as teams that shoot fewer 3-pointers have an obvious advantage.

So let’s turn back to the 3-point index that we used to rank teams. Scroll to the bottom of the article if you want to know exactly how we did it, but the general idea is a metric that measures how each team performs against the field in a combination of 3-point percentage and total 3-pointers made.

MORE: The best 3-point shooting college basketball players this century

Using that ranking, the correlation is even stronger.

Of the Top 50 teams in that ranking, 43 have a winning record over the past 17 years. Even the seven with losing records are pretty solid (for losing teams), with an average win percentage of 46.8.

The average win percentage for our Top 10 3-point shooting teams is .709. In a 32-game season, that would translate to approximately 23 wins.

Let’s go one final step deeper. Outside of general success, does 3-point prowess lead to a better March Madness? Absolutely.

Of the 316 teams that have been in Division I every year this century, 139 have made the NCAA tournament since the 2000-01 season. 

The median wins during that span for a team ranked in the Top 50 of our 3-point index is 10.5, while the median for the teams outside the Top 50 is just two wins.

And it shows in the champions too.

In 2016, Villanova shot 36.2 percent from the line while making 347 total 3-pointers on the season, which then ranked as the 20th most of all time. That season they won the national championship on a 3-pointer.

Last year, Villanova shot 40.1 percent from 3-point range (the 14th best mark in the country) while making 464 on the year — 22 more than any other team in the history of Division I basketball. The Wildcats won their second championship in three years.

Coincidence? The data says anything but.

*Now for the math explainer (some of) you were waiting for. To create our ranking of the best 3-point shooting teams, we couldn’t just rank teams by shooting percentage (which would give an advantage to teams that shot fewer 3-pointers), or by total 3-pointers made (advantage to teams who shot more). Instead, we created a simple 3-point index, comparing each team's performance in both categories to the full range of performances in both categories. Each team’s 3-point index is calculated as follows:


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