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Andy Wittry | NCAA.com | January 3, 2020

These 11 college basketball players became effective 3-point shooters this season even though it's a harder shot

The history and evolution of the 3-point line in college basketball

Starting this season, the 3-point line in men's basketball is 22 feet, 1 ¾ inches from the basket – a move of more than one foot, four inches – which has widened the gap between elite 3-point shooting teams and those that struggle.

The national average in 3-point percentage has dropped by roughly 1.3 percent from the 2018-19 season to this season so it might come as a surprise that there's a group of players who weren't 3-point shooters (or at least, not very good ones) prior to this season who are now taking and making threes at an impressive rate.

In light of the 3-point line being extended starting this season, we wondered: Which players have become effective 3-point shooters this season, even though it's a harder shot than it's ever been?

Our goal was to find players who barely took any 3-pointers before the 2019-20 season (and certainly didn't make many of the threes that they took), but we also identified players who weren't afraid to take threes in past seasons but whose 3-point percentage has taken a significant jump starting this season.

Here are 11 players who have become effective 3-point shooters this season, despite the shot being harder than ever before in the history of college basketball.

Virginia Tech's P.J. Horne

Season Minutes per game 3P/Game 3pA/game 3P 3PA 3P%
2017-18 11.7 0.1 0.2 2 6 33.3%
2018-19 13.1 0.0 0.3 1 8 12.5%
2019-20 27.2 1.5 3.6 18 43 41.9%

In his first two seasons of college, Horne played more than 700 minutes of college basketball. He was a very occasional starter for Virginia Tech and he averaged more than 10 minutes per game as a freshman and sophomore.

So Horne didn't lack the playing time required to develop a role as a low-usage 3-point shooter.

But he was just a combined 3-of-14 from three in his first two seasons with the Hokies.

Enter Virginia Tech coach Mike Young and a new-look Hokies roster for the 2019-20 season, which has allowed them to actually make a higher percent of their threes this season than they did last season when Virginia Tech ranked ninth nationally in 3-point percentage. Horne is part of the reason why.

He's 18-of-43 (41.9%) from three this season, meaning that through 12 games this season he has attempted roughly three times as many threes this season as he did the last two seasons combined, while having made six times as many threes as he made as a freshman and sophomore.

Yale's Matthue Cotton

Season Minutes per game 3p/Game 3PA/Game 3P 3PA 3P%
2018-19 5.6 0.1 1.0 2 16 12.5%
2019-20 19.5 1.6 4.0 21 52 40.4%

You'd be hard-pressed to find many players with more 3-point attempts than Cotton last season (16) while also having fewer makes (two). Actually, BYU's Dalton Nixon, who's also featured in this story, is one of those players at 1-of-16.

Cotton actually attempted almost twice as many threes than twos as a freshman.

Now, Cotton is playing nearly four times as many minutes per game and while he's still inclined to take shots from behind the arc rather than those inside it, he has become a very effective 3-point shooter.

He's 21-of-52 (40.4%) from three, which is a little more than 1.5 makes per game on four attempts.

That's a heck of a year-to-year improvement, especially when 3-point shooting is down across the sport.

BYU's Dalton Nixon

season minutes per game 3p/game 3pa/game 3p 3pa 3p%
2014-15 9.7 0.1 0.7 3 18 16.7%
2015-16 Mission
2016-17 Mission
2017-18 17.3 0.2 0.9 5 21 23.8%
2018-19 12.4 0.0 0.6 1 16 6.3%
2019-20 23.7 1.1 2.5 16 38 42.1%

Nixon is making the most of his final season of eligibility, having already started a career-high nine games and averaging a career-best 8.2 points, which is in large part due to his growth as a 3-point shooter.

In his first three seasons of college, Nixon was a combined 9-of-55 (16.4%) from deep. In BYU's first 14 games this season, Nixon nearly doubled that total and he made at least one three in 10 of those games.

In the first two months this season, the forward already has a four-game and a three-game streak of consecutive games in which he has made at least one three. In the first 75 games of his career, he had never made threes in more than two consecutive games.

While we're on the topic of BYU players who have become serious 3-point threats this season, we might as well highlight Alex Barcello and Connor Harding, too. Barcello, a transfer from Arizona, was just 22-of-74 (29.7%) from three in two seasons with the Wildcats. He was a rotation player, averaging between nine and 10 minutes per game both seasons, but maybe the key for Barcello becoming an effective 3-point shooter was more playing time and assuming a larger role.

He's been an every-game starter for the Cougars, playing nearly 30 minutes per game, and he's 22-of-51 (43.1%) on the season.

Then there's Harding, who was in the Barcello-mold of 3-point shooter at 30.9 percent on two attempts per game last season. Well, just as the distance of the 3-point line increased this season, so has Harding's 3-point percentage.

He's up to 45 percent on 2.7 attempts per game – 18-of-40 for the season – as he has nearly matched his freshman-year total in 17 fewer games. There's a reason BYU has improved its 3-point percentage year-over-year as much as almost any team in the country this season.

Duquesne's Baylee Steele

Season Minutes per game 3p/Game 3pA/Game 3P 3PA 3P%
2016-17 19.5 0.0 0.2 0 5 0.0%
2017-18 Redshirted
2018-19 20.1 0.1 0.2 2 6 33.3%
2019-20 23.6 1.4 3.9 15 43 34.9%

Steele is among the most effective bench scorers in the country for a Duquesne team that was among the last undefeated teams in the country. His career arc is in many ways reflective of the current basketball landscape that emphasizes outside shooting at all levels.

As a 6-11, 245-pound center, he had attempted just 11 threes in his career before this season. He was 0-for-5 as a freshman at Eastern Michigan, 2-of-6 as a redshirt sophomore at Utah Valley and now he's 15-of-43 (34.9%) at Duquesne.

Steele's 35 percent 3-point shooting is a good benchmark to hit in order to make sure opposing defenses respect him as a threat to shoot from deep. He's averaging almost 1.5 threes per game on nearly four attempts and his ability to stretch the floor, drawing the other team's center to the 3-point line, ideally creates more space and driving lanes for his teammates.

In his first game this season, Steele went 3-of-5 from three, meaning he made more threes in his first 28 minutes with Duquesne than he had in the first 1,346 minutes of his career.

Rhode Island's Fatts Russell

season minutes per game 3p/game 3pa/game 3p 3pa 3p%
2017-18 17.9 1.1 3.9 39 131 29.8%
2018-19 34.1 1.3 5.6 40 179 22.3%
2019-20 36.3 2.0 5.2 20 52 38.5%

Not only does Fatts Russell have one of the best names in college basketball – and a case as one of the most productive players in college basketball, pound-for-pound, as a 20-point-per-game scorer at just 5-10 and 165 pounds – but his 3-point shooting was a reclamation project with a major payoff this season.

In his first two seasons at Rhode Island, he attempted a high volume of threes, especially for a player who only averaged slightly more than one made three per game. He was 39-of-131 (29.8%) as a freshman and 40-of-179 (22.3%) last season.

That was a bad trend – more attempts and fewer makes – heading into a season in which the 3-point line was being moved even farther back. Well, Russell's play has dismissed those trends as he's 20-of-52 (38.5%) from three this season as he's done a 180, going from an offensive liability as an outside shooter to a legitimate 3-point threat.

He had a five-game stretch this season in which he made 14 threes, including two games in which he made four.

Kansas State's Mike McGuirl

season minutes per game 3p/game 3pa/game 3p 3pa 3p%
2017-18 12.5 (12 games) 0.4 1.8 5 21 23.8%
2018-19 16.8 0.5 1.9 18 65 27.7%
2019-20 25.3 1.5 3.2 16 35 45.7%

Similarly to Rhode Island's Fatts Russell (albeit with a lower volume), Kansas State's Mike McGuirl provided two seasons of evidence that he wasn't much of a 3-point shooter. He didn't eclipse 30 percent as a freshman or sophomore but now as a full-time starter for the Wildcats, he's the team's best 3-point shooter – if you ignore Makol Mawien's limited 2-for-4 mark.

McGuirl has made the second-most threes on the team this season and he has the best percentage of any player who averages at least one 3-point attempt per game.

Belmont's Adam Kunkel

season minutes per game 3p/game 3pa/game 3p 3pa 3p%
2018-19 9.3 0.4 1.6 11 40 27.5%
2019-20 28.1 3.1 7.2 40 93 43.0%

In just 13 games, Kunkel has already made as many threes as he attempted all of last season. He was a rotation player last season, one who didn't average even 10 minutes per game, and had averaged roughly two shot attempts per game.

Now he's a starter as a sophomore, averaging nearly 30 minutes and more than 13 shots per game. More than half of those shots, on average, are from three, where the 6-3 sophomore is shooting 43 percent on roughly seven attempts per game.

At that pace, Kunkel might attempt somewhere between 220 and 240 threes this season – a pretty significant number.

Oklahoma's Kristian Doolittle

Season Minutes per game 3p/Game 3PA/Game 3P 3PA 3P%
2016-17 25.1 0.5 1.4 17 43 39.5%
2017-18 17.0 0.1 0.2 2 4 50.0%
2018-19 29.1 0.0 0.1 0 4 0.0%
2019-20 31.5 1.2 2.1 12 21 57.1%

Last season, Doolittle was 0-for-4 from three. He attempted the same number of 3-pointers as a sophomore, making 2-of-4. So while the Oklahoma forward was an efficient 3-point shooter on a limited number of attempts as a freshman (17-of-43, or 39.5%), he basically shed shots from beyond 20 feet from his game for two entire seasons.

Well, Doolittle is a 3-pointer shooter once again as a senior, and a highly effective one at that.

He has made 12 of his 21 attempts this season, or 57 percent. At least on the surface, that suggests that the 6-7 forward who attempted just eight 3-pointers in 56 games as a sophomore and junior now has a green light from three, but he's being smart about the threes he's taking.

Texas' Matt Coleman

season Minutes per game 3p/game 3pa/game 3p 3pa 3p%
2017-18 34.0 0.8 2.9 28 98 28.6%
2018-19 30.7 1.2 3.6 43 132 32.6%
2019-20 34.3 1.8 3.8 20 42 47.6%

Even by conservative estimates, Coleman wasn't an average 3-point shooter in his first two seasons at Texas, but he was a willing one. As a freshman he made 28-of-98 threes (28.6%), then his 3-point attempts climbed to 3.6 per game as a sophomore, when he was 43-of-132 (32.6%).

However, Coleman's free throw shooting always suggested that he could be at least an adequate 3-point shooter.

He shot 78 percent at the line in each of the last two seasons. Well, that pay-off finally arrived as Coleman is averaging almost two made 3-pointers per game this season on a 47.6 percent clip. He's 20-of-42 on the season.

Mississippi State's Robert Woodard

season minutes per game 3p/game 3pa/game 3p 3pa 3p%
2018-19 17.5 0.4 1.3 12 44 27.3%
2019-20 33.5 1.4 2.5 15 28 53.6%

Maybe Robert Woodard's 3-point progression is more common than that of other players on this list but to nearly double (!) your 3-point percentage year-over-year is pretty incredible. Mississippi State's talented sophomore was just 12-of-44 (27.3%) last season, which comes out to less than half of one made three per game and 1.3 attempts per game.

However, this season Woodard is 15-of-28 (53.6%), so he has already made more 3-pointers through 11 games this season than he did in 34 games last season and he's making more than half of his tries on roughly 2.5 attempts per game.

Oregon State's Tres Tinkle

season minutes per game 3p/game 3pa/game 3p 3pa 3p%
2015-16 27.7 1.1 3.0 29 80 36.3%
2016-17 34.6 (six games) 0.7 4.2 4 25 16.0%
2017-18 36.4 1.5 4.6 48 147 32.7%
2018-19 36.5 1.8 5.4 53 161 32.9%
2019-20 32.8 2.4 4.7 26 52 50.0%

It's not fair to say that Tinkle was never an effective 3-point shooter because he shot 36 percent from outside as a freshman while attempting roughly three attempts per game. That's a high enough volume to keep opposing defenses honest and to warrant a player attempting that kind of volume from deep.

But in an injury-shortened sophomore season, Tinkle was just 4-of-25 (16%) in six games. Then in the next two full seasons he shot 32.7 and 32.9 percent, respectively, which gave him a four-year 3-point percentage of 32.4 percent prior to this season.

A player who makes slightly less than one out of every three 3-point attempts kind of is who he is at that point, right?

Tinkle's redshirt senior year says otherwise.

He's 26-of-52 on the season, making him exactly a 50 percent 3-point shooter, while attempt nearly five threes per game. This isn't a case of his volume taking a nosedive and him being pickier about the threes he chooses to take.

He has made multiple threes in eight of Oregon State's first 11 games, including six 3-pointers against Iowa State.


Also, a special shoutout goes to the following players, who play for some of the best teams in the country and already were competent 3-point shooters before this season, but significantly improved their percentage from last season:

  • No. 1 Gonzaga's Ryan Woolridge (+16.7%), Corey Kispert (+7.6%)
  • No. 2 Ohio State's Duane Washington (+19.4%), Kaleb Wesson (+11.5%), Luther Muhammad (+9.6%), Andre Wesson (+8.1%)
  • No. 3 Louisville's Ryan McMahon (+9.1%)
  • No. 5 Kansas' Ochai Agbaji (+9.3%)
  • No. 6 Oregon's Anthony Mathis (+9.2%)
  • No. 11 Michigan's Zavier Simpson (+9.9%)
  • No. 12 Butler's Sean McDermott (+6.9%)

 

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