The Rain of Threes Continues
Teams continue to rely on 3-pointers despite the longer distance this year
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When the NCAA moved the three-point line to the international distance of 22 feet, 1¾ inches before the start of this season, the natural question was how teams would react.
Based on the early season results, teams have kept on shooting 3-pointers, continuing the trend of the past decade. Through December 27, the percentage of shots by Division I teams that have come from 3-point range this season is 32.6%, down very slightly from the abbreviated 2020-21 season but higher than in other previous years.
While they are taking as many as threes as ever, teams are not making quite as many this year. The overall 3-point percentage this season is 30.7%, the lowest it has been since 2012-13, but still not far off from the relatively small range of 30.6-31.9% since the 2009-10 season. Granted, this season is far from over, and this year’s percentage is likely to change at least a little.
What you don’t see in the overall data, however, are dramatic improvements in 3-point shooting by some teams. Take Tulsa, which at 10-1 is off to its best start since the 2005-06 season, when it finished 28-6 and beat NC State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Tulsa is a vastly better shooting team than it was even two years ago, the last apples-to-apples comparison. During the 2019-2020 season, the Golden Hurricane ranked 307th among Division I teams in 3-point percentage, hitting 27.7% of its long range shots. In a shortened 2020-21 campaign, Tulsa ranked 228th in 3-point percentage. This year, Tulsa has the second-best 3-point shooting percentage among Division I teams, hitting 42.8% of its shots against Division I opponents.
Playing under Angie Nelp, in her first year as the head coach, the team has increased its shooting percentage in every category, including free throws.
The long-range success isn’t because the Golden Hurricane are taking fewer threes, either: they average about 21 attempts a game through the first 11 contests, the highest rate they’ve had in the time that Her Hoop Stats has been tracking statistics (2009-10).
Six players have made at least 10 3-pointers for Tulsa this season, led by senior Maya Mayberry, who averages 15.7 points a game and has made more than half of her shots from beyond the arc. Her sister, sophomore Wyvette Mayberry, is hitting 46% from long-range. Their father is former NBA player Lee Mayberry, who was a career 42% shooter from distance during his college career at Arkansas. Last season, the sisters accounted for 46% of Tulsa’s scoring; this season, that’s down to 35% as other players are contributing.
Tulsa typically starts four guards and a forward, but just one player who plays heavy minutes, fifth-year senior guard Rebecca Lescay, has not attempted a 3-pointer this season. That fits a pattern; Lescay has made just three threes in her college career.
Tulsa isn’t the only team that has dramatically improved its 3-point shooting this season compared to two years ago. Notre Dame and Texas A&M also have seen big increases in their shooting percentages, along with Nebraska and Ohio State. In many cases one player can make a big difference. Transfers Jaz Shelley and Taylor Mikesell are hitting more than half of their 3-point shots for the Cornhuskers and Buckeyes, respectively. Kayla Wells of Texas A&M also has come out of the gate hot, hitting 56% of her shots beyond the arc.
After an abysmal 3-point performance last season, California has rebounded in a big way from beyond the arc. The Golden Bears made just 21% of their 3-point attempts in the 17 games they played in 2020-21. This season, led by freshman Jayda Curry and junior Jazlen Green, they are hitting 34.6% of their long-range shots.
To balance out significant improvements, there are some notable teams who have struggled from 3-point distance this year. Among them is UConn. In nine games, the Huskies have made 31.8% of their shots from beyond the arc, which many teams would happily take. But that’s a drop-off for UConn, which hasn’t made less than 35% of its 3-pointers in a season since 2009-10 (the absences of Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd due to injury aren’t likely to help in the immediate future, either).
Maryland and Iowa, two other high-flying offenses that shot 40% from long range last season, are off that pace so far this season as well. Iowa is making 30% of its threes, which, if it held up, would be the lowest since at least 2009-10. Chances are it doesn’t hold up, since Caitlin Clark, who shoots the most threes on the team, is currently hitting just 25% of them. Oklahoma State, which has been an inconsistent long-range shooting team in recent years, has hit just 23% of its 3-point shots in nine games this season.
Shooting form is a fickle thing, and it’s not certain that the early-season trends will continue, especially for individual teams. However, it does seem clear that moving the line hasn’t reduced the importance of the 3-point shot or the willingness of teams to take it.