Handicapping College Basketball Three-Point Shooting
Three-point shooting is the most frustrating and least predictable game-to-game metric for college basketball bettors. Sides and totals are so often determined by which team is hot and which team is not, leading us at Three Man Weave to offer millions of dollars to whoever can crack the algorithm that reveals how 18-21 year olds will shoot from distance on a given night.
Three-point shooting oftentimes comes down to luck, but over a big enough sample size you’d expect teams with good shooters to shoot better than teams with bad shooters. There are certainly teams out there in college basketball who are collectively shooting WAY above their true ability, and likewise there are many struggling to hit the broadside of a barn despite rostering capable marksmen. In today’s article I dive into a sample of teams who are vastly out-performing their three-point shooting numbers from last year (and vice versa) and evaluate whether that should continue or start to regress to the mean.
Incarnate Word Cardinals (2020: 29.1%; 2021: 41.7%)
Incarnate Word has been sneaky-decent from an ATS perspective (5-3) due in large part to its sky-high three-point percentage which currently ranks 5th in the country. The Cardinals shot an abysmal 29.1% in 2019-20 (337th nationally) which led to them checking in as the 9th-worst team in the country per KenPom. So is the Cardinals’ hot-shooting sustainable?
On one hand, UIW lost three guys from last season in Dwight Murray, Augustine Ene, and Derek Van Vlerah who shot a combined 37-of-158 (23.4%) from deep – their absence alone is a step in the right direction. High-volume shooters Keaston Willis and Drew Lutz are shooting well (35.4% and 38.5%, respectively), which seems reasonable given their increased comfort-level and ability as sophomores. However, the one player headed for a sure drop-off is 6’3” sophomore Brandon Swaby, who is shooting an insane 14-of-22 (63.6%) overall and 8-of-11 (72.7%) in Southland play. Given Swaby was just a 26.3% three-point shooter in 2019-20, this hot run of his likely comes crashing back down to Earth soon. Conclusion: Mildly sustainable, expect a slight drop-off
Illinois Fighting Illini (2020: 31.87%; 2021: 39.7%)
The Fighting Illini could have won the Big Ten last season had more outside shots fallen their way. Illinois shot an atrocious 30.3% from beyond the arc for the entire season but were even worse in conference play at 29.3% (dead last in the B1G). Losing Alan Griffin (41.6%, first on the team) this offseason to transfer had many speculating the shooting woes were doomed to continue in Champaign. So far that hasn’t been the case.
All-America guard Ayo Dosunmu has vastly improved his outside stroke, knocking down 38.5% of his trey-ball tries compared to just 29% as a sophomore. In his rookie season Dosunmu shot 35.2% from deep on a high volume, so this spike in accuracy seems sustainable. Likewise, Trent Frazier has found his shot again after shooting just 29.9% from deep last season. Frazier was a 38.2% three-point shooter heading into last year, so his current-year mark of 39.1% is more a return-to-form than an anomaly. Newcomers Adam Miller (36.9%) and Jacob Grandison (46.7%) have also aided the Illini shooting effort, but the greatest impact has come from Da’Monte Williams who has completely revolutionized his game as a senior. Williams has knocked down an impressive 22-of-36 (61.1%) from deep after entering this year a career 27% three-point shooter on relatively low volume. While he certainly won’t shoot this well over the course of the rest of the season, his form and confidence suggest he’ll maintain a high clip. Conclusion: Sustainable, Illinois will continue to fire
Hofstra Pride (2020: 37.4%; 2021: 27.9%)
Hofstra’s shooting dip is easily explained. The Pride lost two of its most prolific three-point shooters in Desuire Buie (42.1% on 178 attempts) and Eli Pemberton (38.1% on 155 attempts) to graduation this offseason, leaving them with two truly “good” outside shooters in Jalen Ray and Tareq Coburn. The pair of seniors, however, are struggling this season – Ray is a paltry 33.8% from deep after coming into 2020-21 as a career 40% three-point shooter, and Coburn is “just” 35.2% despite shooting 38.1% and 43.1% the prior two seasons, respectively. Ray and Coburn should shoot better the remainder of the year, but with a heavier burden offensively – including more on-ball reps – it’s unlikely either player regains their 2019-20 form. Conclusion: Mildly unsustainable, expect slight improvement
BYU Cougars (2020: 41.9%; 2021: 32.8%)
BYU led the country in three-point percentage last season, so a regression of any kind was expected in 2020-21. But at just 32.8% overall, the Cougars’ rank of 203rd in the country wasn’t what most prognosticators had in mind. This year’s current mark is the second lowest by the BYU program since 1998 when head coach Steve Cleveland led the Cougars to a sterling 9-21 overall record.
Like Hofstra, BYU lost a ton of gifted shooters from its stellar 2019-20 squad. Yoeli Childs, TJ Haws, Jake Toolson, Dalton Nixon and Zac Seljaas all shot over 34% from deep over a large sample size. Alex Barcello is still lighting the nets on fire this season at 56%, but fellow wing Connor Harding has dropped to a disappointing 30.2% after cashing in on 45.3% of his attempts last season.
The structure of BYU’s offense has changed this season as well. With guys like Matt Haarms, Caleb Lohner, and Richard Harward taking on prominent roles, post touches are given a higher priority than in the past. In addition, new point guard Brandon Averette is much more dribble-drive focused and much less of a knockdown shooter than his predecessor Haws. Head coach Mark Pope is excellent at adjusting his style to his roster, but without better outside shooting it’s unlikely the Cougars can challenge Gonzaga for the WCC auto-bid. Hopefully a strong non-conference schedule can propel BYU to an at-large nod in March. Conclusion: Sustainable, the Cougars likely don’t improve much
Follow BettorIQ contributor Ky McKeon @Ky_3MW.