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Andy Wittry | | January 29, 2020

Mid-season update: 3-point shooting in men's college basketball is pretty much back to normal in 2020

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

In December, I produced a statistical look at the effects (and in some cases, the lack thereof) of the extended 3-point line in men's college basketball this season. We found that there were more teams making at least 40 percent of their threes compared to last season, but also 36 teams that were making fewer threes than the worst 3-point shooting team in college basketball last season.

Now that the 2019-20 college basketball season is roughly three months old and there is about double the amount of game data available compared to the last time we analyzed 3-point shooting nationally, I decided to take a second look.

This analysis includes 3,780 games — those played through Monday, Jan. 27.

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What has changed from December? What hasn't, and why?

Here are some of our notable findings:

  • 3-point shooting has slightly improved since mid-December. Through Jan. 27, the national average for 3-point percentage is 33.3 percent, an increase of 0.2 percentage points from Dec. 18. The national average was 34.4 percent last season. Attempts are very slightly down from December as the national 3-point attempt percentage (meaning what percent of shots are threes) has decreased by 0.1 percentage point since Dec. 18.
  • There are the exact same number of teams shooting at least 40 percent from three as there were last season — five. In my last analysis this season, there were 15 teams. Predictably, that number declined as the sample size of regular-season games increased and as competition got harder for the top teams in the country with the start of conference play.
  • There are still a significant number of teams with a worse 3-point percentage than the worst 3-point shooting team last season. In the 2018-19 season, Jackson State and Maryland Eastern Shore were last nationally with a 27.9 percent 3-point percentage. Through Jan. 27, there are 18 teams making less than 27.9 percent of their threes, including Jackson State (352nd nationally at 24.9 percent) and Maryland Eastern Shore (353rd at 23.6 percent). Most concerning (surprising? odd? statistically unprecedented?) is that reigning national champion Virginia ranked 347th in 3-point percentage at 26.7 percent.

Last season's best 3-point shooting team, Lehigh, made more of its threes — 42.3 percent, to be exact — than the best 3-point shooting team this season, through Jan. 27: South Dakota at 41.3 percent. And we've already established that the 2020 edition of Maryland Eastern Shore, which ranks last nationally, is making fewer threes than the lowest percentage in the country last season.

So if the best and the worst 3-point shooting teams of the 353 DI men's basketball programs in the 2018-19 season made a higher percentage of their threes than their 2019-20 counterparts, are there any teams (teams, in this case, meaning schools with the same ranking nationally, not individual programs) in between that are better 3-point shooting teams this season?

Meaning, for example, is the 27th-best 3-point shooting team, based on percentage, making more of its threes this season than the 27th-best 3-point shooting team last season?

The answer is yes, barely.

Only four teams this season, when listed in order from No. 1 to No. 353, are shooting a higher percentage from deep compared to the team with the same ranking last season. That would be the 4th, 6th, 16th and 17th-best 3-point shooting teams in the country.

To put names to the faces, those schools are Akron (40.8%), Marquette (39.8%), McNeese State (38.3%) and Northern Iowa (38.3%), respectively. So while last season's best 3-point shooting teams were collectively better than this season's best 3-point shooting teams, there are small pockets of teams around the 38 to 40-percent mark that are better than their 2019 counterparts.

In a weird statistical coincidence, the 14th-best 3-point shooting team last season and the 14th-best 3-point shooting team this season, through Jan. 27, have the same 3-point shooting percentage. We don't just mean both are shooting 38.4 percent when you round up; no, they're both at 38.37209302 percent. Exactly.

That'd be Indiana State this season and Utah Valley last season.

But the rest of the 348 DI programs — those ranked 1st through 3rd, 5th, 7th through 13th, and 18th through 353rd — are shooting a lower percentage compared to their 2018-19 counterparts.

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The following scatter plot shows the 3-point percentage of every team in the country this season compared to last season, listed in ascending order from No. 353 to No. 1.

What's also interesting is that the gap between teams with the same national 3-point ranking in the 2019-20 and 2018-19 seasons gets larger the further you go down the national rankings.

There's less than a one-percent difference between the 3-point percentages of the top 95 teams this season compared to last season. There isn't a gap of at least 1.2 percentage points until you get to the 150th team.

Then, 18 of the bottom 19 teams this season, meaning those ranked between No. 335 and No. 353, have at least a difference of two percentage points compared to the teams last season that had the same rankings. None of the top 334 teams this season have such a gap from their 2018-19 predecessor.

The chart below shows how all 353 DI teams compare to the national averages of 33.3 percent 3-point shooting and a 37.6 3-point attempt percentage (meaning what percent of a team's shots are threes).

Nearly 30 percent of DI teams are shooting, and making, fewer threes than the national averages.

3-point Shooting DNA Number of teams Percent of DI Teams
Above-average 3P% and 3PA% 90 25.5%
above-average 3P%, below-average 3PA% 77 21.8%
below-average 3p%, above-average 3PA% 81 22.9%
Below-average 3P% and 3pA% 105 29.7%

How does that four-quadrant breakdown compare to last season?

During the 2018-19 season, there were 99 teams that made and attempted more threes than the national averages (34.4 percent and 38.7 percent, respectively), or 28 percent of all DI teams. Seventy-two were above-average in 3-point percentage and below-average in 3-point attempt percentage; 75 were below-average in 3-point percentage but above-average in 3-point attempt percentage and 107 were below average in both metrics.

So across the board, that's a very similar breakdown of how many teams compare to the national average in 3-point shooting and 3-point attempt percentage.

I found that there are more average 3-point shooting teams at this point of the season than there were in mid-December, which is probably to be expected from a statistical standpoint.

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Through Jan. 27, there were 122 teams with a 3-point percentage between 33.0 percent and 36.0 percent — an increase of 19 teams from mid-December. Last season, there were 152 teams in this range.

So there are more, worse 3-point shooting teams this season than last but the number has decreased as the season has progressed.

Two-hundred and nine of the 352 returning DI programs — DI-newcomer Merrimack is in its first season at this level — have experienced less than a three-percent change (positive or negative) in 3-point shooting percentage from last season.

Forty-five schools have improved their 3-point percentage by more than three percent, while more than double that amount of schools, 99, have seen their 3-point percentage decrease by more than three percent.

Here are the schools that have had the greatest positive and negative changes in 3-point percentage from last season to this season (through Jan. 27). The numbers below are rounded to the nearest tenth of a percent.

school Positive change in 3P% school Negative Change in 3P%
Akron +9.1% (31.7% to 40.8%) Grambling State -13.2% (40.2% to 27.0%)
BYU +7.8% (33.0% to 40.8%) Virginia -12.8% (39.5% to 26.7%)
South Dakota +7.4% (33.9% to 41.3%) Southern Miss -10.3% (39.0% to 28.7%)
McNeese State +7.3% (31.0% to 38.3%) Cleveland State -9.5% (36.5% to 27.0%)
Stanford +7.1% (31.7% to 38.8%) Oakland -9.0% (37.9% to 28.9%)

What school has been impacted the least by the extended 3-point line?

Based on 3-point percentage alone, that'd be Kansas State.

Through Jan. 27, the Wildcats were shooting 33.4128 percent from three this season after shooting 33.4257 percent last season — a difference of just -0.0129 percentage points.

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