How Important Is Three-Point Shooting This College Basketball Season?

There is a growing correlation between three-point shooting and success in NCAA basketball. How big is it?

In case you missed it, basketball is evolving. 

The decades-long emphasis on height and size has come to a screeching halt. Some people point at the lack of durability in big men. Others blame it on the introduction of the three-point shot. And some will argue that it's all on the success of the Golden State Warriors, led by MVP and three-point extraordinaire Stephen Curry.

No matter the reason, the days of banging and bruising down low are all but over for most squads. The reign of the three-point line has really just begun.

This has never been more evident than in today's NBA, where the Warriors and San Antonio Spurs -- who rank first and second in the league in three-point percentage, respectively -- are easily considered the best two teams in the Association.

Has the transition now made its way to the college ranks?

It appears so.

Season 3PM/G 3PA/G 3P%
1999-00 6.10 17.70 34.44%
2014-15 6.41 18.58 34.51%
2015-16 7.10 20.47 34.70%

Since the 1999-2000 season, there really hasn't been a huge jump in the national averages. Teams are averaging one more three-point make per game while taking 2.77 more attempts from deep on average. And the national percentage is a mere fraction of a percentage point higher than it was 16 years ago. 

No big deal, right? Wrong. This year's upticks in both makes and attempts per game are the highest year-to-year jumps we've seen since the implementation of the three-point shot in the 1986-87 season.

There are many possible reasons for this shift in the numbers, but there is only one change that sticks out from last season to the current one: the rules.

This year, the NCAA has put a 30-second shot clock in place (down from the 35-second shot clock previously used) and have put an emphasis on eliminating hand-checking and contact on the perimeter. After getting some time to acclimate to the way games are officiated, team fouls have dissipated. 

In fact, the national average of 19.33 fouls per game is just over a foul more than last year's average and a mere 0.22 more than the 2013-14 season. I could be wrong but that tells me that players, while looking to stay out of trouble, are allowing perimeter shooters more space to get shots up. The result? More three-point attempts and more makes.

That has led to today's correlation between good three-point shooting and top teams.

Team nERD Rank 3PM/G 3PA/G 3P%
Oklahoma 18.49 1 11.28 24.43 46.2
St. Mary's 13.35 24 9.45 21.65 43.6
Kansas 16.20 11 8.52 19.76 43.1
Indiana 14.97 15 10.00 23.43 42.7
Michigan St. 16.87 7 8.48 20.48 41.4
SMU 14.07 19 6.33 15.52 40.8
Iowa 17.30 6 8.95 22.48 39.8
Virginia 16.45 9 5.76 14.52 39.7

The above eight teams all rank within the top 25 of our very own in-house nERD power rankings and are among the top 20 teams in the country in three-point shooting percentage. And if I needed any more backup on that, each of the eight are in the top 25 in's basketball ratings, and all but one -- St. Mary's -- have a spot in the current AP poll.

They are all undoubtedly top-25 teams, but they don't come without their differences.

As Oklahoma and Indiana hoist at least 23 three-point shots per game -- and excel by shooting with volume and both efficiency -- SMU and Virginia simply do it with efficiency.

Outside of SMU and Virginia, every other team attempts and makes more than the national average and has found a lot of success in doing so.

That's not the only reason for their success, however. A trend to consider is that, spread across these eight teams, there are 23 upperclassmen (juniors or seniors) averaging double digits in scoring. Something to keep in mind come tournament time.

Not coincidentally, according to our bracketology, seven of the eight teams have at least an 80% chance of making the Big Dance, six with a 90% chance, and even SMU -- who is banned from postseason play for NCAA violations -- would have over a 72% chance of reaching the postseason.