Collegiate women’s basketball has been a leader in improving the game over the past few decades, from moving to quarters and allowing teams to advance the ball in the final minute. But when it came time to push the 3-point arc back earlier this year, coaches opposed the move.
Except for UConn coach Geno Auriemma, who spoke with reporters before a coaches clinic at Harvard on Saturday and called the decision “stupid.”
“There's a lot of things that we did as a women's game,” he said, via The Associated Press, “and then we blew it by not moving the line back.”
Game is better with deeper 3-point line
The NCAA men’s 3-point line will move back this year from 20 feet, 9 inches to the international and WNBA distance of 22 feet, 1 3/4 inches.
In doing so, college courts will now have two 3-point lines since the women’s game will keep it at 20 feet, 9 inches. And Auriemma isn’t pleased, calling that alone “stupid” and declaring “everybody thinks they’re a 3-point shooter.”
"The further you move the line back, the better the game becomes. Because only those guys that are really good 3-point shooters will be shooting it. The other guys will be too embarrassed to shoot because they're not going to make any.
“The closer the line is, everybody thinks they can make (it). So everybody's like, 'I got this.’ I think it's dumb. And you know what we'll do? We'll play like this for a year or so and then we'll move it back just like theirs."
That’s similar to what the NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Committee reasoned. It moved the line back to open up the lanes for dribble-drives, assist in offensive spacing and slow the trend of increased 3-point shots.
Analytics show bad 3s beat solid 2s
Everyone is like, “I got this,” in part because analytical minds — which Auriemma said he is not — reason a bad 3-point shot will result in more points on average than a solid 2-point look.
It also reasons that long 2-pointers are not as efficient as 3-pointers; why attempt a long shot that gets only two points when a few feet would add one more? It’s what makes Connecticut Sun guard Courtney Williams, who showed out in the WNBA Finals, such an interesting case.
Curt Miller wants his players to take the most efficient shots, as most coaches do, so he asked Williams to drive more. But she has a nice touch from mid-range and is consistent there, as Howard Megdal found when analyzing her game for FiveThirtyEight in September.
Sometimes data isn’t everything.
Research moves the line
The men’s game moved its line back after testing it out at the NIT level during the postseason. It found that NIT teams attempted the same amount of 3-pointers in the postseason than in the regular season, which makes sense. But teams shot slightly worse in the postseason, again expected given a suddenly deeper line.
It’s the same situation that happened when the NCAA moved its line back for the 2008-09 season. Shot efficiency has increased throughout the years.
The NCAA Women’s Basketball Rules Committee approved an experimental rule for the international 3-point line in May. It will go for two years at the non-NCAA championship postseason events.
“Our committee feels the game is in a really good place, and before making a change of this magnitude, we want to make sure we have data,” said Linda Cimino, committee chair and women’s basketball coach at St. Francis Brooklyn, via the NCAA in May.
UConn will get 3 points another way
Auriemma said he will buck the 3-point shot trend by emphasizing layups and free throws. Via the Associated Press:
"I don't know what analytic that falls under," he said. "So we're going to get 3. Either we're going to get it because we've got a couple of good 3-point shooters, or we're going to score, get fouled and make a free throw. So I'm choosing a different way to get 3s."
UConn averaged eight made 3-pointers per game and kept opponents to 6.1. The Division I average was 6.05 3-pointers and an average of 19.03 attempts (31.7 percent), both all-time highs. Though UConn star Katie Lou Samuelson has graduated, point guard and lone senior Crystal Dangerfield figures to continue her success behind the line.
The Huskies also fared better getting to the free throw line and sinking those shots than did opponents. They made an average 12.9 per game, shooting an overall 73.4 percent (490-668). Their opponents made 7.5 on average, shooting 68.6 percent (284-414).
The 11-time NCAA champions are, as usual, in good shape no matter what the latest analytical craze is and even without a 3-point line pushed back. The school’s most prolific pair of classmates in Samuelson, now with the Chicago Sky, and Napheesa Collier, the WNBA’s Roookie of the Year with the Minnesota Lynx, will be a hit, but one UConn can absorb no matter what style of 3s it chooses.
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