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November 8, 2008

Preseason story line No. 3: New 3-point line

»More: Countdown to tipoff

Rivals.com has selected the top 25 story lines for the 2008-09 season and will be revealing one daily. At No. 3, we take a look at the new, longer 3-point line.

Kansas spent the summer getting a sneak preview of how college basketball's biggest recent rule change could affect its national-title defense.

During an exhibition tour of Canada in August, the Jayhawks frequently believed they were lining up for 3-point shots, only to find their feet were on the arc because of their unfamiliarity with international rules.

They hope to avoid repeating that mistake this season as the NCAA moves the 3-point line back a foot.

"We took a lot of bad shots," coach Bill Self said. "We took a lot of 2½-pointers because of them just not knowing the geography of the court as well. I do think it's going to have an impact."

The 3-point line had been 19 feet, 9 inches from the basket since the NCAA introduced the shot for the 1986-87 season. This season marks the first time colleges will operate with the line at 20-9.

The game has relied more and more on the long-distance shot each season. Teams averaged 3.5 baskets and 9.2 attempts from 3-point range during the first year the rule was in place. Last season, those figures climbed to a record 6.7 baskets and 19.1 attempts per game.

Will teams keep shooting from long range at the same rate? Will they start working the ball inside more often? And how often will players get confused by the new line?

"(Moving back) the 3-point line will affect our game more than people think," Florida coach Billy Donovan said.

And it won't merely have an impact on the perimeter.

"I don't think it's going to affect shooting much," Marquette guard Jerel McNeal said. "I think where it will really matter is spacing. You can spread out more, and I think that will work to our favor because we have so many guys that can penetrate into the lane."

Moving the 3-point line back a foot could stop the steady increase in 3-point baskets and attempts each season. This chart shows the average number of 3-pointers made and attempted (per team, per game) since the NCAA adopted the shot in the 1986-87 season. The NCAA rounded up to the nearest tenth of a point until the 1996-97 season, when it started rounding up to the nearest hundredth of a point. Records are listed in bold.
Season 3-pointers Attempts Percentage
1986-87 3.5 9.2 38.4
1987-88 4.0 10.4 38.3
1988-89 4.4 11.8 37.8
1989-90 4.7 12.8 36.8
1990-91 4.7 12.8 36.8
1991-92 5.0 14.0 35.6
1992-93 5.3 14.9 35.4
1993-94 5.7 16.5 34.5
1994-95 5.9 17.2 34.4
1995-96 5.8 17.1 34.2
1996-97 5.81 17.10 33.97
1997-98 5.98 17.37 34.44
1998-99 5.94 17.37 34.21
1999-00 6.10 17.70 34.44
2000-01 6.13 17.70 34.63
2001-02 6.33 18.29 34.58
2002-03 6.28 18.05 34.79
2003-04 6.37 18.33 34.73
2004-05 6.37 18.33 34.73
2005-06 6.44 18.43 34.94
2006-07 6.62 18.89 35.04
2007-08 6.72 19.07 35.23
Source: NCAA.org

If the NCAA follows the NBA's lead, perhaps more players will try driving into the lane rather than attempting a 3-point shot.

When the NBA introduced the 3-point line for the 1979-80 season, the arc was 22 feet away from the basket at the corners and extended to 23-9 at the top of the key. The NBA shortened the 3-point line to a uniform 22 feet in 1994-95 before going back to its original distance two years later.

The number of 3-point attempts dropped 24 percent in 1996-97, the first season after the 3-point line was moved back. The NBA's accuracy percentage from 3-point range fell from .360 to .346 that year.

Donovan doesn't expect such a drastic reduction to take place in the college game. The Florida coach believes teams won't make 3-pointers quite as often, but he expects teams will continue to take shots from beyond the arc as frequently as ever.

"Moving the line back in the college game forces teams to play more zones," Donovan said, "and if there are more zones, there will be more 3-point shots.

"If they wanted to change the game with the 3-point line, the thing is you've got to in unison with the lane (widening the key). There's been some talk of that, but it hasn't happened. That would (create) more space and more cutting and moving, less smashmouth and more balance between the inside and outside."

While moving back the 3-point line might not bring those kinds of wholesale changes to the game, it should separate college basketball's truly elite shooters from the guys who simply benefited from the previous rule.

For example, Self doesn't expect the new rule to have any effect on Texas guard A.J. Abrams, who already is the school's career record-holder with 284 career 3-pointers. Self noted that Abrams already attempted many of his 3-pointers from well beyond the arc.

But it could severely hamper the production of shooters whose range doesn't extend far beyond 20 feet.

"It can also cause more zone and force people to force those deep twos – those 19-9 twos," Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. "Those 19-9 twos are tough. If you look at those numbers, that's about a 38-percent shot. You don't mind 38 percent from three, but you've definitely got a problem with 38 percent from two."

Indeed, the national average for 3-point shots has hovered between 34.2 percent and 38.4 percent since the line was introduced. Only nine teams in the country shot at least 40 percent from 3-point range last season, and that number figures to drop this season.

"I think the new line will put insecurity into some players,'' Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "There's less room in the corners, so maybe you start thinking about it more. It's not a physical thing but a mental thing."

Even though players will be shooting 3-pointers from farther away under the new rules, they also could get more open looks from outside if more defenses switch to the zone. Then again, not every coach agrees with Donovan's contention that the new line will increase the popularity of the zone.

"My original thoughts were that we would probably play a little more zone," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "But after being in practice and really being there with it, I'm not sure if it's going to be that big a factor."

Barnes said he changed his mind after noticing that the new line wasn't really affecting the approach of Abrams and his other 3-point shooters during preseason practices.

But at least one coach discovered a major change in his team's accuracy from beyond the arc.

"I've already noticed a difference," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "Our shooting percentages in offseason workouts were down significantly. I think it separates the real shooters from the wannabes."

That could make marksmen such as Abrams, Davidson's Stephen Curry and Notre Dame's Kyle McAlarney more valuable than ever, even if they don't score quite as often this season.

"I just don't really know the answer," Barnes said. "I thought it would (have a major effect). But after being in practice with it, I'm not sure it will be that big a difference."

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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