“Live by the three, die by the three” is a phrase you’ll likely hear during March Madness. But is there a benefit to picking a team that shoots a lot of three-pointers? Should you stay away? We looked at the last 15 years of NCAA tournaments. Here are the three things you should absolutely keep in mind when you make your picks:
1. Picking a team that likes to shoot threes doesn't improve your odds.
2. Your Cinderella pick for the second weekend shouldn't be a team in love with the three.
3. If you must pick a team that loves threes, go with a top four seed to be safe.
Allow us to explain.
Here’s the year-by-year look:
|Year||Seed||Team||3PA/G Rank||3P% Rank||NCAAT Finish|
|2003||14||Troy||T-1st||194th||Round of 64|
|2003||4||Louisville||T-13th||100th||Round of 32|
|2003||8||Oregon||T-13th||27th||Round of 64|
|2004||16||Florida A&M||T-10th||149th||Round of 64|
|2004||3||NC State||T-10th||157th||Round of 32|
|2004||7||Memphis||T-10th||106th||Round of 32|
|2004||1||St. Joe's||T-10th||4th||Elite 8|
|2005||7||West Virginia||T-3rd||99th||Elite 8|
|2005||14||Niagara||T-5th||114th||Round of 64|
|2005||13||Vermont||T-7th||115th||Round of 32|
|2006||6||West Virginia||2nd||168th||Sweet 16|
|2006||10||NC State||6th||64th||Round of 32|
|2006||15||Davidson||T-7th||69th||Round of 64|
|2006||14||South Alabama||T-7th||78th||Round of 64|
|2007||13||Davidson||T-8th||82nd||Round of 64|
|2007||15||Belmont||T-12th||145th||Round of 64|
|2008||15||Belmont||4th||111th||Round of 64|
|2008||5||Drake||T-9th||95th||Round of 64|
|2008||7||Butler||T-9th||56th||Round of 32|
|2009||10||Michigan||T-3rd||194th||Round of 32|
|2009||13||Portland State||T-6th||33rd||Round of 64|
|2009||8||Oklahoma State||T-15th||25th||Round of 32|
|2010||7||Oklahoma State||T-11th||139th||Round of 64|
|2010||9||Louisville||T-11th||194th||Round of 64|
|2010||13||Houston||T-19th||103rd||Round of 64|
|2010||14||Sam Houston State||T-19th||57th||Round of 64|
|2010||12||New Mexico State||T-19th||55th||Round of 64|
|2011||13||Belmont||T-6th||32nd||Round of 64|
|2011||4||Louisville||T-10th||87th||Round of 64|
|2011||7||Washington||T-10th||53rd||Round of 32|
|2012||8||Iowa State||T-11th||54th||Round of 32|
|2012||14||Belmont||T-11th||37th||Round of 64|
|2012||4||Michigan||T-11th||136th||Round of 64|
|2012||13||Davidson||T-11th||208th||Round of 64|
|2012||16||Mississippi Valley State||T-11th||257th||First Four|
|2013||10||Iowa State||2nd||42nd||Round of 32|
|2013||7||Illinois||T-8th||256th||Round of 32|
|2013||5||VCU||T-13th||110th||Round of 32|
|2014||2||Villanova||T-6th||120th||Round of 32|
|2014||16||Mount St. Mary's||T-6th||126th||First Four|
|2014||3||Creighton||T-6th||1st||Round of 32|
|2015||10||Davidson||T-2nd||21st||Round of 64|
|2015||15||Belmont||7th||46th||Round of 64|
|2015||13||Eastern Washington||T-15th||8th||Round of 64|
|2015||7||VCU||T-15th||175th||Round of 64|
|2016||13||Iona||T-8th||65th||Round of 64|
|2016||11||Michigan||T-24th||38th||Round of 64|
|2017||9||Vanderbilt||T-14th||66th||Round of 64|
|2017||12||UNC-Wilmington||T-14th||100th||Round of 64|
|2017||12||Princeton||T-14th||61st||Round of 64|
Some lessons from the numbers:
1. Of these 60 teams, two exited in the First Four, 30 exited in the Round of 64, and 15 exited in the Round of 32, meaning 78.3 percent of these teams failed to reach the second weekend.
Considering 75 percent of Round of 64 teams don't make it to the Sweet 16, this shouldn't be a surprising number. But if you're picking teams that shoot a lot of threes, you're doing it because you want an edge that follows a modern basketball trend.
The numbers seem to suggest that edge doesn't exist.
Lesson 1: Statistically speaking, you probably shouldn’t pick high-volume three-point-shooting teams to go very far.
2. Of the 13 teams to reach the second weekend, just six were Top-4 seeds, and 11 were Top-8 seeds, the two exceptions being Steph Curry’s Davidson team in 2008 and Cornell, the best three-point shooting team in the country, in 2010.
The thing is, there have been some really good high-volume, three-point-shooting Bottom-8 teams in the last 15 years:
- In 2009, 13-seed Portland State was 33rd in the country in 3P% and lost in the Round of 64.
- In 2012, 14-seed Belmont was 37th in the country in 3P% and lost in the Round of 64.
- In 2010, the same year as Cornell’s magical run, 14-seed Sam Houston State and 12-seed New Mexico State both ranked Top 60 in the country in 3P%… and both lost in the Round of 64.
Lesson 2: Statistically speaking, you probably shouldn’t make your Cinderella pick a high-volume three-point-shooting team.
3. Even the best teams in the tournament, the Top-4 seeds from each region, have a hard time going far when they shoot lots of threes.
Of the 13 Top-4 seeds we looked at, more than half were out after the Sweet 16, and only one — Villanova in 2016 — has won a championship. When you think about it, that makes perfect sense considering the way Villanova won its title.
But three of the 13 did reach the Final Four, so…
Lesson 3: Statistically speaking, if you want to pick a team that lives by the three, you should go with a Top 4 seed.
But beware! Even the highest-seeded, most-accurate, three-point-loving teams in the tournament might go cold and break your heart. After all, this is March.