While we were focused on college basketball’s mess off the court earlier this month, with guilty verdicts handed down in the federal corruption trial involving coaches, players and the leeches between them, the sport quietly went about trying to clean up a mess on the court.
From the NCAA on May 18: “The Men’s Basketball Rules Committee proposed moving the 3-point line to the international distance of 22 feet, 1¾ inches.”
3-point lines: A comparison
College: 20 feet, 9 inches
International distance: 22 feet, 1¾ inches
NBA: 23 feet, ¾ inches
3-point line history: The NBA implemented the 3-point line in 1979. College added it universally in 1986 and high school basketball the following year.
If the Playing Rules Oversight Panel passes the proposal June 5, the 3-point line will move from its current depth of 20 feet, 9 inches. Why do this?
“Freedom of movement in the game remains important and we feel this will open up the game,” Colorado coach and rules committee chair Tad Boyle said in the NCAA release. “We believe this will remove some of the congestion on the way to the basket.”
The committee tried to unclog college basketball four years ago by asking officials to call clutch-and-grab fouls. It was a well-intentioned move that left enforcement to the officials’ discretion. Some blew their whistle, others didn’t. The clutching and grabbing was hardly eradicated.
Moving the 3-point line leaves nothing to interpretation. Coaches and players must adjust in this case, not officials.
The anticipation is the players will still shoot 3s. Since they’ll be doing it from a slightly longer distance, perimeter defenders will have to extend. When that occurs, the shooters will have an easier path to a dribble drive should they choose that option, whether all the way into the lane or closer to 15 feet for a pull-up.
This sounds appealing in theory.
“I like that we’re trying to at least be proactive about adjusting ways we can make the game better and increase fan interest,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton said. “That’s part of it, right? We’re losing fans.”
According to NCAA data, the last time the annual average attendance figure for college basketball home games rose was 2007. It was 5,327 that year. It was 4,607 in 2018.
Fans prefer prettier basketball whether watching in the stands, the living room or the back seat of a car watching a live stream. Does moving the 3-point line deliver those goods?
“I don’t know how it’ll affect movement. I think it’ll affect shot selection,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “The marginal guy shooting 30% from last year’s line, I don’t know that he’s going to shoot nearly as many from next year’s line (the new distance takes effect next season if the proposal passes), just based on percentages. He might shoot 22% to 25% from the farther line. All of a sudden that becomes not a good play. That will reduce the attempts by the marginal guy.”
Can we, though, count on the marginal shooter to limit his bricklaying?
“In the last five years, the 3-point line has become a big weapon in order to get more points per possession, and points per possession are huge,” Oral Roberts coach and self-admitted analytics follower Paul Mills said. “Shooting 33% from 3 is equivalent to making half your 2s. People are trying to exploit the numbers. What you’ve seen collegiately is a 28% rise in teams taking 3s as a percentage of their offense. ...
“I think the rules committee is trying to say, ‘Let’s get away from hoisting all of these 3s in order to maximize efficiency. Let’s try to get to a more fluid game instead of simply being a jump-shooting game.’ ”
But, as Mills points out, we’re probably too far gone for that. Flip on an NBA game sometime. Players, 7-footers even, bomb away. Coaches, content with the fact that three points are greater than two, let them.
The bombers could pump fake and drive into an open mid-range shot, just as college players could.
“But nobody takes mid-range shots anymore,” Mills said.
The college players could try to drive into the lane more, assuming they can beat their defenders off the dribble.
“We don’t have NBA players everywhere,” Boynton warned. “The game could be more challenging for guys because they won’t be able to shoot the longer 3, and then they can’t make NBA-type plays off the dribble and get into the lane as quickly.”
The college players could throw it into the post more often, assuming it’ll be a little tougher for perimeter defenders to sag and double the bigs down low.
“But you’ve got to eliminate contact in the post on shots,” Kruger said. “That would make it a more attractive play to throw the ball inside. Right now, it’s just not a high percentage play unless that player is really skilled.
“Think about the number of low-post guys in the Big 12 last year that were a big factor with their back to the bucket. Udoka Azubuike at Kansas, certainly. After that I don’t have an immediate name for you where you’re saying, ‘Yeah, if you throw it in there, he’s gonna score on you without a double team.’ ”
Boynton’s solution to all of this?
“I think the court needs to be bigger,” he said. “Ninety-four by 50 is no longer big enough. Everyone talks about how the guys are so much bigger and more athletic, and we play on the same dimensions the game started.”
You want freedom of movement? Literally give players more freedom, if by a few feet.
“I’m not talking about the size of a football field,” Boynton said. “But we want more space on the floor, and we won’t add space to the floor. We just keep moving the lines.”
We’ll see if the 3-point line moves June 5. We’ll see if the game opens as a result.
But it doesn’t sound like we should count on it.