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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.

It’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 don’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, it’s becoming more predictable than it used to be in college basketball. We’re at a point now where most teams have somebody who’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:

*It’s easier to make three’s at home than on the road because the shooting backdrop is familiar. This isn’t as big an issue as it used to be, but it’s still a valid point.

*It’s easier to make uncontested three’s than contested three’s. That’s obvious of course. Too many poorly coached teams don’t realize this!

*It’s easier to make three’s when a player is planted and set than it is when he comes to a full stop on the fast break. You’ll see many “automaticâ€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 “Princetonâ€쳌 offense that patiently moves the ball around until a shooter in good position gets an open look.

*It’s easier to make three’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.

*It’s easier to make three’s against defenses who are tall and slow. They just can’t cover the entire perimeter very efficiently.

*It’s easier to make three’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 won’t seem so random any more. You’ll be taking teams who shoot the trey intelligently when they’re facing poor defenses in good scoring conditions. You’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 you’re at the mercy of a random stat, you’ll feel largely in command of what is arguably the single most important factor in that game. You’ll be backing Butler, Drake, or Air Force at home against a slow-footed defense in a game they’re going to win handily. You’ll be going against Troy or Fresno State in a road game where the bombs just aren’t going to fall.

I hope you’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. You’ll feel much more in command of the sport, and you’ll be finding easy winners in spots you weren’t even looking at before.

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