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Dealing With the Whims of Three-Point Performance
by Scott Spreitzer - 02/19/2008
Probably the biggest monkey wrench for college basketball handicappers is the seeming randomness of three-point shooting performances. Whenever you lose a game you love, it seems like your team will always have something like 2-12 or 3-18 on their three-point stat line. If not that, the opponent was 8-12 or 10-15. If three-point shooting had been normal, you would have won easily. Instead, something way out of line happened and you took a loss instead of a win.
Itâ€™s easy to forget that ALL sports have random influences like this. Turnovers in football can wreak havoc with outcomes. The way an umpire calls a strike zone can seemingly determine the winner of any baseball game. The reason sharp handicappers donâ€™t hit 75% or 80% of all of their releases is because the randomness of sports makes that impossible. You do your best to find edges, just as you would when playing Texas Hold-em. The cards that hit the flop, turn, and river are out of your control.
Three-point shooting is out of your control!
Though, I have to admit, itâ€™s becoming more predictable than it used to be in college basketball. Weâ€™re at a point now where most teams have somebody whoâ€™s almost automatic if they get an open look out of a set offense. Kids have been shooting this shot since they started playing the game. By the time they reach the college level, specialists really are marksmen at the relatively short distance (which, thankfully, is being lengthened next season because the shot really has become too cheap). Handicappers should be looking at the shot from the following perspective:
*Itâ€™s easier to make threeâ€™s at home than on the road because the shooting backdrop is familiar. This isnâ€™t as big an issue as it used to be, but itâ€™s still a valid point.
*Itâ€™s easier to make uncontested threeâ€™s than contested threeâ€™s. Thatâ€™s obvious of course. Too many poorly coached teams donâ€™t realize this!
*Itâ€™s easier to make threeâ€™s when a player is planted and set than it is when he comes to a full stop on the fast break. Youâ€™ll see many â€œautomaticâ€쳌 bid teams from lesser conferences in the Big Dance try to hit treys out of transition. They tend to clank balls off the rim all day. Other programs have copied the â€œPrincetonâ€쳌 offense that patiently moves the ball around until a shooter in good position gets an open look.
*Itâ€™s easier to make threeâ€™s in cozy arenas than it is in NBA-style arenas, or in domes converted for basketball during March Madness. Remember this come tournament time.
*Itâ€™s easier to make threeâ€™s against defenses who are tall and slow. They just canâ€™t cover the entire perimeter very efficiently.
*Itâ€™s easier to make threeâ€™s with fresh legs than with tired legs (important to remember during conference tournaments).
With those fundamentals in mind, handicappers should then take these two critical steps:
*Find the teams who make great use of three-pointers out of their regular offenses, and look for spots where this will be particularly helpful. Read through the boxscores and look for consistency and a clean percentage.
*Find teams who tend to launch a bunch of treys in panic mode when they fall behind, and look for spots where this will be a big problem. These will be clear in the boxscores with teams who have a lot of those 3-18 or 6-24 type games.
Suddenly, three-point performance wonâ€™t seem so random any more. Youâ€™ll be taking teams who shoot the trey intelligently when theyâ€™re facing poor defenses in good scoring conditions. Youâ€™ll be going against poorly coached erratic teams who are launching guarded shots while trailing on a court with a bad shooting background.
Instead of feeling like youâ€™re at the mercy of a random stat, youâ€™ll feel largely in command of what is arguably the single most important factor in that game. Youâ€™ll be backing Butler, Drake, or Air Force at home against a slow-footed defense in a game theyâ€™re going to win handily. Youâ€™ll be going against Troy or Fresno State in a road game where the bombs just arenâ€™t going to fall.
I hope youâ€™ll pay serious attention to this stat in these last few weeks of the regular season, and all through the conference tournaments and Big Dance. Youâ€™ll feel much more in command of the sport, and youâ€™ll be finding easy winners in spots you werenâ€™t even looking at before.