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Adam Hermann | | February 5, 2021

What to know before you pick a team that shoots lots of 3s

Relive Donte DiVincenzo's record-breaking performance

“Live by the 3, die by the 3” is a phrase you’ll likely hear during March Madness. But is there a benefit to picking a team that shoots a lot of 3s? Should you stay away? We looked at the last 16 years of NCAA tournaments. Here are the three things you should absolutely keep in mind when you make your picks:

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1. Picking a team that likes to shoot 3s doesn't improve your odds.

2. Your Cinderella pick for the second weekend shouldn't be a team in love with the 3.

3. If you must pick a team that loves 3s, go with a Top-4 seed to be safe.

Allow us to explain.

The table below contains stats from the three teams in each tournament that attempted the most 3s per game during the season. For some years, because of ties, there are more than three teams, which in the end is good because it’s more data!

Here’s the year-by-year look:

Year Seed Team 3PA/G Rank 3P% Rank NCAAT Finish
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 4 Louisville T-7th 10th Final 4
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
2006 1 Villanova T-7th 58th Elite 8
2007 13 Davidson T-8th 82nd Round of 64
2007 5 Tennessee T-12th 100th Sweet 16
2007 3 Oregon T-12th 32nd Elite 8
2007 15 Belmont T-12th 145th Round of 64
2008 15 Belmont 4th 111th Round of 64
2008 10 Davidson T-9th 113th Elite 8
2008 5 Drake T-9th 95th Round of 64
2008 2 Tennessee T-9th 145th Sweet 16
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
2010 12 Cornell T-19th 1st Sweet 16
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 7 Florida T-4th 32nd Elite 8
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
2016 2 Villanova T-24th 112th Champions
2016 2 Oklahoma T-24th 2nd Final Four
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
2018 1 Villanova T-6th T-20th Champions
2018 8 Creighton T-11th T-57th Round of 64
2018 12 Davidson T-11th T-26th Round of 64
2018 13 Marshall T-11th T-152nd Round of 32
2019 6 Villanova  4th T-122nd Round of 32
2019 5 Auburn 5th T-21st Final Four
2019 6 Buffalo 12th T-207th Round of 32

Some lessons from the numbers:

1. Of these 64 teams, two exited in the First Four, 30 exited in the Round of 64, and 17 exited in the Round of 32, meaning 76.6 percent of these teams failed to reach the second weekend. 

Considering how many 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 3s, you're doing it because you want an edge that follows a modern basketball trend.

SCHEDULE: Dates, times to know for March Madness 2021

The numbers seem to suggest that edge doesn't exist.

Lesson 1: Statistically speaking, you probably shouldn’t pick high-volume, 3-point-shooting teams to go very far.

2. Of the 15 teams to reach the second weekend, seven were Top-4 seeds, and 13 were Top-8 seeds, the two exceptions being Steph Curry’s Davidson team in 2008 and Cornell, the best 3-point shooting team in the country, in 2010.

The thing is, there have been some really good high-volume, 3-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 3-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 3s. 

Of the 14 Top-4 seeds we looked at, five did not make it to the Sweet 16, and only one — Villanova in 2016 and 2018 — has won a championship. 

But four of the 14 did reach the Final Four, so…

Lesson 3: Statistically speaking, if you want to pick a team that lives by the 3, you should go with a Top 4 seed.

But beware! Even the highest-seeded, most-accurate, 3-point-loving teams in the tournament might go cold and break your heart. After all, this is March.

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