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Andy Wittry | NCAA.com | February 12, 2020

How many good 3-point shooters you really need to win an NCAA title

March Madness bracket predictions, less than 6 weeks away

If you want an edge when you fill out your 2020 NCAA bracket (and who doesn't?) here is a quick tip — pick a national champion that has at least three players who average one or more made 3-pointers a game.

Eighteen of the last 20 national champions had at least three of those guys. That's one of the things I learned from looking at every national champion's roster this century. Here's what I found:

  • A national title contender probably needs at least three players who average at least one made three per game
  • It wouldn't hurt to have a high-volume 3-point shooter, or two, too. Seventeen of the last 20 national champions had at least one player who averaged at least two made 3-pointers per game. Nine of the last 20 had multiple such players.
  • National championship hopefuls should probably have at least three players who make at least 35 percent of their 3-point attempts. Seventeen of the last 20 national champions had at least three 35-percent 3-point shooters. The average number among those teams, however, was closer to four — 3.65 35-percent 3-point shooters per team.
  • You better have at least one 3-point marksman and ideally multiple. We're talking about players who make at least 40 percent of their threes. Seventeen of the last 20 champions have had at least one 40-percent 3-point shooter and the average during that stretch was 1.9 players per team.

Here's the complete breakdown, based on the number of rotation players each team had who averaged at least one 3-pointer per game, who averaged at least two 3-pointers per game, and who shot at least 33, 35, 37 or 40 percent.

Year Champion Avg. 1+ 3PM AVG. 2+ 3PM 33+% 35+% 37+% 40+%
2019 Virginia 3 2 5 4 4 3
2018 Villanova 5 3 7 7 6 4
2017 North Carolina 3 2 5 3 3 1
2016 Villanova 5 1 4 4 3 0
2015 Duke 4 1 6 5 5 2
2014 UConn 4 1 5 4 4 3
2013 Louisville* 4 0 2 2 2 1
2012 Kentucky 2 0 3 3 3 3
2011 UConn 3 0 3 2 1 1
2010 Duke 3 2 4 4 4 0
2009 North Carolina 3 2 4 3 3 3
2008 Kansas 3 1 4 4 3 3
2007 Florida 3 2 4 3 3 3
2006 Florida 3 2 5 4 2 1
2005 North Carolina 4 1 5 5 4 3
2004 UConn 2 2 4 4 3 2
2003 Syracuse 3 1 3 2 0 0
2002 Maryland 3 1 4 3 3 1
2001 Duke 4 2 4 4 3 2
2000 Michigan State 4 1 4 3 3 2

*Louisville's participation in the 2013 NCAA Tournament was later vacated.

On average, the last 20 national champions have had almost 3.5 players who have averaged at least one made 3-pointer per game and almost 1.4 players who have averaged at least two 3-pointers per game.

Villanova's 2018 national championship team was one of the most prolific 3-point shooting teams to win a national title, with a group that shot 40.1 percent from distance during the season and 41.5 percent during its six NCAA tournament games.

The Wildcats had five players who averaged at least one made 3-pointer per game and seven rotation players who made at least 35 percent of their attempts, which was the national average for 3-point percentage that season. 

Only 2004 UConn, which shot 40.2 percent from three for the season, and 2012 Kentucky (37.8%) had just two players who made at least one 3-pointer per game, on average.

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Seventeen of the 20 teams had at least one player who averaged multiple made threes per game and coincidentally, the teams that didn't won the tournament in consecutive seasons.

Now, what about the number of good 3-point shooters you need based on percentage?

On average, national champions this century have had roughly four players who have made at least 33 percent of their threes, three who have shot at least 37 percent and two 40-percent 3-point shooters.

Nineteen of the 20 teams examined had at least three players who shot at least 33 percent from three (16 of 20 had at least four), 17 of the 20 had at least three who shot at least 35 percent behind the arc (11 of 20 had four), 15 of 20 had at least three players who shot at least 37 percent and 12 of 20 had at least two 40-percent 3-point shooters.

Syracuse's championship team in 2003 stands out as the most extreme example of a team with a limited number of good 3-point shooters with just three players who made at least 33 percent of their threes, two who were at least 35-percent 3-point shooters and none who made at least 37 percent of their attempts on the season.

WHAT TO EXPECT NEXT: After a team pulls off an upset in the first round, what typically happens next?

The 2019-20 teams that fit this model

So, if we set the general 3-point-shooting baseline likely needed to win a national championship at three players who average at least one made three per game, including one player who averages at least two per game, and four players who shoot at least 33 percent from three, including three at 37 percent or better and one 40-percent 3-point shooter, how many current top teams meet that criteria?

While you technically don't need to have a player who averages at least two 3-pointers per game or shoots at least 40 percent from deep, five of the last six national champions met the criteria outlined above. The one that didn't, Villanova in 2016, technically didn't have a 40-percent 3-point shooter but it did have three players who shot 38 or 39 percent, so it's picking nits at that point.

The following stats are current through the games played on Feb. 9.

Team Meets criteria? Avg. 1+ 3PM AVG. 2+ 3PM 33+% 35+% 37+% 40+%
Baylor Yes 4 2 4 4 3 2
gonzaga Yes 5 1 5 5 4 2
Kansas No 4 0 3 3 1 1
san diego state Yes 4 2 4 4 4 2
louisville Yes 3 2 5 4 3 3
dayton Yes 4 1 6 4 3 3
duke No 3 0 6 3 2 1
florida state No 4 0 6 5 3 2
maryland No 4 1 3 2 2 0
villanova No 5 2 4 4 2 1

 

As you fill out your 2020 NCAA Tournament bracket, keep in mind how important 3-point shooting can be during a six-round, single-elimination tournament, especially in a season in which there are more poor 3-point shooting teams due to the extended 3-point line.

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