Will arc change scoring curve?

college basketball preview nation

New distance on 3s to test men's game

November 09, 2008|By Don Markus | Don Markus,don.markus@baltsun.com

When college basketball adopted the three-point shot for the 1986-87 season, the impact was immediate - and not necessarily for the better. The number of shots teams took went up, and the percentage of shots made went down.

"I think idiots put in the rule," former La Salle coach Speedy Morris said at the time.

Dr. Edward Steitz, the athletic director at Springfield College who was chairman of the NCAA rules committee, thought otherwise, saying that it was the game's most important change in 50 years.

"It accomplished everything the rules committee wanted," said Steitz, who died in 1990. "The dunk is no longer basketball's home run; the three-point shot is."

In the more than two decades since its inception, the three-point shot has changed the game - most recently in the way mid-majors have used it to level the court every March.

Now comes the question: Will moving the fences, uh, three-point arc, out a foot to 20 feet, 9 inches for the men's college game make a difference this season in the approach coaches and players take?

Oh, did they change the distance?

"I haven't even noticed anything about it yet, even in practice," said Indiana-Purdue Indianapolis coach Ron Hunter, whose team led Division I in three-point shooting last season at 42.3 percent.

Said Loyola guard Marquis Sullivan (Archbishop Spalding), who last season finished 23rd in the country - right behind Davidson standout Stephen Curry - "It looks pretty much the same to me. Maybe late in the game, those few inches could make a difference."

According to those familiar with the decision to move the arc, the NCAA rules committee did it this time for the same reason the legendary (or infamous, depending on your viewpoint) Steitz did it back in the mid-1980s: to open the floor and help with the flow of the game.

But IUPUI's Hunter doesn't think it's going to make a difference in that area, either.

"The kids are too big," Hunter said. "The only way it's going to have an effect is if we use the NBA three. It's the only way you'll get it where guys can cut without it being football or anything. For what we did, I just don't think it was enough."

Florida State assistant coach Andy Enfield, who made his reputation as the nation's best free-throw shooter at Johns Hopkins and has made a living teaching players to shoot from all distances on the college and pro level, said the rule change will likely affect frontcourt players more than guards.

"Some of the bigger players, whether it is a forward or a center, guys that used to step out and shoot that 19-foot, 9-inch shot and they're borderline consistent shooters, that one foot will probably make a bigger difference," Enfield said.

Enfield recalled when he was an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks and the NBA experimented with the idea of making the three-point arc 22 feet around rather than 23 feet, 9 inches at the top and side of the key and 22 feet in the corners.

"It invited more power forwards and centers to think, 'Hey, this is a short shot; maybe I'll just jack one up,' " Enfield said. "More guys were trying it; they weren't necessarily good shooters. Shooting that shot myself, there's not a huge difference right now. When you get beyond 22 feet, that's the dividing line where the inconsistent shooters really struggle."

Hunter is not so sure that an extra foot will make a difference to anyone on the court, even a 6-10 forward.

"When you come down to it, it's less than what these guys wear in a shoe size," Hunter said. "The kids are so big and strong now, it's just a shoe size away."

Loyola's Sullivan, who says he was more of a slasher in high school, acknowledges that he doesn't even look at where the three-point line is before setting his feet, squaring his shoulders and letting it fly. Sometimes he gets into such a zone that he starts thinking about it 30 feet from the basket.

"When it comes to shooting the ball, it's just a feel," said Sullivan, who hit six threes in two straight games to end last season.

Still, IUPUI's Hunter said he thinks the rule is actually going to help the mid-majors who have made such an impact because they traditionally have better shooters than the teams from the bigger conferences.

Of teams that finished in the top 10 last season in three-point shooting, only three came from major conferences - New Mexico (42.0 percent), coached by former Indiana shooter Steve Alford, was second; Notre Dame (40.5 percent) was seventh; and Vanderbilt (39.9 percent) was 10th.

"What helps us is that we like the spacing of it because we shoot the ball further out," Hunter said. "I have to admit, I'm spoiled. The kids in Indiana can really shoot it."

Hunter said his team often practices its three-point shooting from NBA distance. Although he wouldn't mind seeing the college game expand two feet more, he understands that it would have major ramifications.

"That would change the complexion of college basketball altogether, in my opinion," Hunter said. "I think it would hurt the high majors because those are the schools that get the bigger, stronger guys. That NBA line would help us more because we can still shoot that shot, while Indiana, Kentucky and Louisville can't make that shot on a consistent basis."

And how about a player such as Loyola's Sullivan?

He doesn't think it would matter.

Why not?

"I can pretty much shoot it from anywhere," he said.

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