Live and Die by the 3-Pointer

We hear it again and again – but is there any validity to the fact that teams that rely on 3-pointers are unreliable in March?

This season, there are four teams I have identified that rely heavily on 3Ps for their offensive output – and I am going to compare them to teams of the past eleven seasons to see how likely (or unlikely) it is for them to advance deep into the tournament.

The criteria needed to make this list are simple: (1) the team must be a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament and (2) have 3Ps make up greater than 33.3% of its total points.

In 2014, Creighton, Villanova, Michigan, and Duke make the cut.

Creighton’s offensive efficiency has cooled a bit over the last couple weeks, but do not count out Doug McDermott & Co. from getting hot soon. The Bluejays rank 1st nationally in effective Field Goal Percentage, 1st in 3P%, and 3rd in 2P%, while taking the 8th highest percentage of 3s in the country and having the 3rd highest percentage of total points coming from 3Ps. Creighton will very much live and die by the 3P in March.


Villanova is another Big East team that relies on 3-pointers significantly. The Cats are more balanced on both sides of the ball than Creighton, as both Villanova’s offense and defense ranks in the Top 20 on KenPom, but Jay Wright’s team doesn’t shoot nearly as well as Greg McDermott’s. Villanova’s effective Field Goal Percentage ranks 22nd nationally with the 97th best 3P% and 14th best 2P%. They take the 7th highest percentage of 3s in the country and have the 23rd highest percentage of total points coming from beyond the arc.

Michigan, like Creighton, relies on its offense to win games. With the 111th ranked defensive efficiency nationally, the Wolverines make up for it with the 3rd best offensive efficiency. John Beilein’s squad has the 8th best effective Field Goal Percentage, 12th best 3P%, and 22nd best 2P% in the country. In addition, Michigan takes the 34th highest percentage of 3s in the nation and has the 25th highest percentage of total points coming from 3Ps.

Finally, Duke is closest to rivaling the offensive production out of Creighton and Omaha, Nebraska. The Blue Devils have the 2nd best offensive efficiency in the country (and the 101st rated defense). Duke has an effective Field Goal Percentage of 54%, good enough for 21st nationally, and the 10th best 3P% and 77th best 2P%. Coach K’s 2014 team actually has Duke’s lowest 3PA% (percentage of shots taken being 3Ps) since 2006. 33.8% of Duke’s total points come from 3P land, ranking 28th in the country.

So, it’s clear these four teams will need to hit 3Ps to have a chance to play into April – but how likely is it that a team that needs to hit 3Ps will follow through and perform as advertised?

Here is every team since 2003 that fits the criteria described above with their percentage of total points coming from 3Ps, national rank, tournament seed, and eventual finish in the NCAA Tourney:

Screen shot 2014-03-19 at 1.58.49 PM

2014 Creighton being at the top of the list jumps out immediately. The Bluejays rely on 3Ps more than any top four seed in the past eleven years. The teams just below them, however, like 2004 Saint Joe’s, 2007 Oregon, and 2012 Wisconsin, all advanced to at least the Sweet Sixteen.

2014 Villanova, 2014 Michigan, and 2014 Duke fit right into the mold of these teams, so I thought it would be helpful to look at some of the teams eliminated early in the tournament to see if missing 3Ps was to blame.

2008 Vanderbilt was blown out by (13) Siena, 83-62, in the Round of 64. After shooting 39.9% as a team all season, the Commodores went 4-20 from beyond the arc (20%) and were routed by Kenny Hasbrouck’s 30 points and Tay Fisher’s perfect 6-6 performance on 3-Pointers.

2011 Louisville lost in the Round of 64 to Kenneth Faried and Morehead State, 62-61. Rick Pitino’s Cardinals had shot 36.2% as a team from beyond the arc that season – and against Morehead State, they actually performed better, shooting 10-25 (40%) from distance. What hurt Louisville was a 7-16 day at the FT Line and a Demonte Harper 3-pointer with 4.2 seconds to play.

Kenneth Faried, Chris Smith

2012 Michigan lost to Ohio, 65-60, in the Round of 64. The Wolverines had shot 35.1% as a team on 3Ps that season – but shot below average in the loss (7-23; 30.4%). There are no real glaring reasons for the loss on the box score: Ohio was 15-17 from the FT Line, 6-16 (37.5%) on 3Ps, and had about the same assists, turnovers, and rebounds as Michigan. ESPN Stats & Info notes that “Ohio shot 59.3% on 2-point Field Goals (in the game), the third-highest percentage in a game against Michigan (in 2012). The Bobcats were more efficient than Michigan in the paint, scoring the same amount of paint points (24) with nine fewer field goal attempts”.

In these three examples, a good 3P shooting team went cold, a good 3P shooting team hit 3s but missed FTs, and a good 3P shooting team was beat inside the arc.

It’s tough to predict when a team is going to go cold from distance, so I won’t go into that aspect too much. What I will say, however, is that 10 out of 19 (52.6%) of the teams on this list advanced to at least the Sweet Sixteen, so going cold is not something you should really worry about.

Out of the four 2014 teams, Villanova is the most balanced. It is unlikely that the Cats will be outplayed in the paint like 2012 Michigan, as Villanova has the 20th best defensive 2P% in the country. What might take down Jay Wright and his team, though, is an opponent hitting 3Ps. Villanova has the 233rd rated defensive 3P% in the nation – and it will not surprise me if a team gets hot against Nova’s lackluster 3P defense and upsets (or just beats) them.

Darrun Hilliard Kiss

Creighton is the worst defensive team in this group. They don’t block shots, they don’t force turnovers, and they don’t get steals – but they do rebound and avoid fouling very well. Teams that beat Creighton contain Doug McDermott and try to shut down his teammates, and I think that will be the recipe to knock out the Bluejays.

Duke actually defends 3Ps very well for an average defensive team. A defensive 3P% of 30.5% puts them 20th nationally. The Blue Devils’ 2P% of 50%, however, will present an issue. Duke is a candidate to fall victim to what happened to 2012 Michigan and get outmuscled inside. Duke has size, so there is no excuse for a weak interior defense. If Coach K can have his team step up defensively, Duke could get to Dallas.

Michigan is very similar to Duke. The Wolverines defend the 3-pointer very well, but they have issues inside the painted area. Losing Mitch McGary was a brutal blow to this team, but they rebounded quickly and earned the Big Ten regular season championship and a No. 2 NCAA Tournament seed. Where the loss still hurts them, however, is interior defense. Michigan could very well have a repeat performance of what happened two years ago. I do not expect Michigan to lose in the Round of 64, but they are candidates for an early exit if they cannot defend 2Ps.

Should you be careful picking these four teams to advance deep in your bracket because they shoot a lot of 3-pointers? No, I don’t think so.

Plenty of teams since 2003 with similar shooting statistics moved to the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight, and some even went as far as the Final Four (2005 Louisville) and the National Championship game (2005 Illinois).

Picking against a team because it has made a high amount of 3Ps is silly. What is not silly, however, is picking against one of them for its other flaws.

Will Michigan and Duke have problems with their interior defense?

Will Creighton fall again because the supporting cast is shut down?

Will Villanova get a taste of its own medicine and be knocked out by a hot-shooting team?

Now, we can only wait and see.


Let us know what you think in the comments below or on Twitter at @BEandBeyond!


2 thoughts on “Live and Die by the 3-Pointer

  1. Pingback: NCAA Tournament Bids: How Many Should Your Conference Expect? | Big East and Beyond

  2. Pingback: How Good is Villanova? | Big East and Beyond

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