With the 3-point shot more prevalent than ever in college basketball it was a big deal this week when the NCAA officially moved the line back from 20 feet, 9 inches to 22 feet, 1¾ inches, the distance used in FIBA (internationally sanctioned basketball). A move like this isn’t insignificant and it could change the way some teams view both their offensive and defensive strategies as the further 3-point line will change the spacing of the game.
As soon as discussion started from the NCAA Rules Committee about furthering the line I immediately began to think about what this would mean for the Gators. Florida took 43.3% of their shots from behind the arc last season making for more threes than ever shot in Gator basketball history. Coach White has put a premium on the shot and given most players on the roster the green light to let it fly if given space. Defensively, stopping the three and running shooters off the line has also been a priority.
With the 3-ball as important as ever the change will have to have some implications in the way Florida plays. Here is how I think it will affect the Gators’ 2019-20 season.
As a note before we get into the discussion I refer throughout this article to “college” and “FIBA” threes. A college three would be a three pointer from last season that wouldn’t be long enough to be considered a three on the new line and since the NCAA is adapting the FIBA line I’ll refer to shots from that range as FIBA threes.
One of the biggest reasons Florida was so successful defensively last season was the fact they neutralized the 3-point attack of a lot of their opponents ultimately allowing 31.6%, good enough for 39th in the country. The speed throughout the roster really helped them when it came to defending beyond the arc as they were able to rotate quickly and get out to shooters. With Kevarrius Hayes behind them they were also able to run shooters off the line knowing they had an elite shot blocker behind them to help out.
A further 3-point line means offenses are going to be more spaced out and that means there is going to be even more ground to cover for defenses. For that reason team speed is going to be more important than ever and Scottie Lewis, Tre Mann, and Ques Glover entering the perimeter group will give the Gators even more speed next to solid defenders in Noah Locke and Andrew Nembhard.
Florida double-teamed in the post almost every time the ball got entered there and whenever you double-team that means defensive rotations around the floor will need to occur. With offenses spaced out further that means more distance to travel and that could make rotations more difficult.
The same principal applies when it comes to helping off dribble drives and for that reason playing strong individual defense is also going to be more important than ever. Players one pass away won’t be able to stunt into the gap and help defend the drive as much since the space between offensive players will be greater and that will create easier drives for offensive players. For that reason rim protection is also going to become more important and losing Hayes to graduation could really hurt. Florida has some good perimeter defenders and good team speed and that should help with keeping their man in front of them on the perimeter and when it comes to double-teaming and rotating on post ups. If they aren’t able to defend in space the Gators may struggle with points allowed at the rim unless Gorjok Gak can step back into the good rim-protecting role he showed flashes of two years ago or if Dontay Bassett can improve.
A deterrent to playing zone defense is the open threes you might give up and the Gators didn’t play much zone last season, only 8.3% of the time. With three point shots becoming more difficult the weak point of the zone won’t be as amplified and for that reason I’m curious to see if Coach White dials up more zone this year. There are going to be times the Gators need to roll out two bigs on the floor at once which could hurt in some man to man defensive scenarios and going to a zone could be beneficial. When the Gators did play zone they were successful in the relatively small sample size and perhaps we’ll see more zone in the upcoming season.
All in all, I think the 3-point line moving back is going to benefit the Gators defensively. They were a team that excelled at forcing tough 3-point looks last season and now that the shot is even more difficult teams should struggle to hit them against the Gators. Their team speed will be really beneficial as they race around the floor and I’m anticipating opponents to struggle to score even more than they did last year against a stout Florida defense.
As I mentioned earlier Florida shot more threes than ever last year but they didn’t convert them at a great rate, only 33.4% (224th in the country). Moving the line back may sound daunting for a team that didn’t shoot great last season so I thought I’d look at the numbers to see how this would affect the team.
This is where things got interesting.
My investigative journey started by looking at the statistical analysis tools that track the distances of shots taken, thinking there would be a simple and straightforward answer to what Florida shot on what would be new FIBA distanced threes.
Unfortunately, a straight answer was impossible to find.
There were extreme discrepancies between the tools I looked at and the answers were far off from each other, whether it be in terms of conversion rate or the amount of shots taken. There were wild swings between the registered numbers of shots taken and the rate at which they were hit, and almost all the numbers didn’t correlate properly to the way they should given the raw box score numbers. The data looked flawed and it wasn’t anything that I thought gave a solid answer to what Florida shot on threes that would have been behind the new arc.
For that reason, I took matters into my own hands.
I decided I would watch every single 3-pointer Florida attempted the past season, all 872 of them, and manually log whether it was a “college” three (between 20’9”) or a “FIBA” three (the new line, 22’1¾”).
Before I show you the results, some FAQ I’m sure will come up.
Q: How did you do this?
A: I had to eyeball it. For starters, I went down to a gym in my city that has both the FIBA and NCAA college 3-point line (in Canada pretty much everyone started using the FIBA line years ago but the college line remains for middle schoolers to play with) which helped me get a good visual feel for the distance. However, obviously watching film I wouldn’t have the luxury of seeing the shots in person and in real time.
I came up with a bit of a visual tool to help. Obviously at the greatest points the new line is 16¾” further than the old line. According to the Jordan Brand website, the average size 12 basketball shoe is about 11¼” long. That means when I saw a player shoot, I could visually see their feet as a reference point and imagine if there was roughly one and a half of their shoes’ distance between them and the 3-point line. If it was further than that mental reference, I logged it as a FIBA three.
It’s almost the identical distance in the corners so unless the shooter was spotted up JUST behind the line in the corner it was a FIBA three, one I was confident in the accuracy of the logging.
The toughest area to log accurately was the wings because it wasn’t quite the corner where the distance is about the same but it hasn’t reached the full 16¾” change yet. This is where mentally seeing the difference in lines at the high school gym helped me out. I even took some photos from up high in an office space to get a view similar to what you’d see on TV to help gauge some of the closer threes.
Q: If you were eyeballing the placement of the shots doesn’t that make your data inaccurate?
A: Yes it does, but I feel much more confident in it than I did with the data I was finding from other sources. I’m not going to claim this data is 100% accurate because there’s no way I really could do it perfectly but since I watched every single attempt I am actually fairly confident with what I came up with. There actually weren’t as many tough calls as I expected when going through all the shots. Many attempts were either unmistakably deep and obviously FIBA threes (looking at you, Noah Locke and KeVaughn Allen) or just behind the line and obviously just college threes that would now be long twos (Keyontae Johnson was the master of spotting up just behind the 3-point line). There weren’t actually a lot of shots that were tough to gauge. If you personally want to throw out the data I’m about to bring up I can understand where you’re coming from but as someone who just watched and logged 872 Florida 3-point attempts I can tell you I truly believe the data is quite accurate.
Q: Did watching 872 3-point attempts take a long time?
A: Yes, yes it did. But I would skip the first part of longer possessions to get right to the 3-point attempt so it was roughly 15 seconds per attempt.
Q: Are you a maniac for doing this?
A: Yes, but anything for Gator Nation!
With those questions out of the way, here’s what I found.
First of all, of the 872 threes Florida took 385 would have been deep enough to be FIBA threes. That’s 44% of them, so actually a good amount of their threes were deep. The Gators’ practice gym is equipped with an NBA line (which is even longer than the new FIBA line college basketball is implementing) so I’m sure a lot of players use that to hoist from and develop their range. Noah Locke and KeVaughn Allen often spotted up from really deep which gave them space away from defenders to launch from. On the other hand, players like Keyontae Johnson, Keith Stone, and Andrew Nembhard were really good at spotting up just behind the 3-point line which isn’t a bad strategy given the fact it makes for the shortest possible shot. For that reason a lot of their attempts didn’t register as FIBA threes.
Now, the number you’ve all been waiting for, the percentage of FIBA threes Florida hit last season.
When factoring in only the shots deep enough to be FIBA threes, the Gators shot 34.5%.
That’s actually higher than the 33.4% they posted overall. 34.5% would have been good enough for 163rd in college basketball this season and considering percentages will presumably drop with the changing line Florida would have favored quite well. Here is each player’s overall 3-point percentage and the percentage they shot exclusively on FIBA threes last year.
When looking at the FIBA threes of all the players returning to roster they shot a combined 37.2%, propped up by the fact Noah Locke shot a tremendous percent on a high volume of attempts.
As you can see there were a few players that actually shot better from deep than they did the college line. Why was that the case? Most shots from deep were catch and shoot while many of the college threes that weren’t deep enough to be FIBA came off the dribble. Shots off the dribble are drastically less efficient than catch and shoot attempts and only looking at the FIBA threes took a lot of the tough attempts off the bounce from Allen and Hudson off the table.
When it came to shooting off the dribble from FIBA range there were still some definite struggles. Andrew Nembhard shot 1-14 which hurt the fact he was 10-25 from FIBA distanced catch and shoot threes and Noah Locke only hit 33% of his FIBA threes off the dribble while hitting 42.6% of his FIBA catch and shoot threes.
Shooting from deeper range also Florida’s shooters more space as when you spot up right by the line you’re closer to the defense and therefore are more likely to be closed out versus when you spot up a few feet behind. Locke was particularly good at spotting up from a few feet behind the line which didn’t necessarily make the shot that much more difficult due to distance but gave him the separation from the defender he needed to get the shot up.
Here’s some numbers you might find interesting. On all their catch and shoot threes last year the Gators shot 33.5%.
On FIBA catch and shoot threes, they shot 37.3%
This shows me just how important it is going to be for Florida to limit their threes off the dribble. The Gators shot 28.3% on their off the dribble threes last year and with the line going further back that number is going to drop a lot more. As you can see from the catch and shoot numbers it’s like the further line actually isn’t going to affect that shot much and the percentage might be extremely similar. If Florida can limit their tough threes off the catch and instead shoot more catch and shoot threes, their percentage may even go up.
Just as I mentioned earlier about whether Florida will play more zone defense themselves due to the changes I’m curious to see if the Gators will see more zone from their opposition. Teams played zone 9.5% of the time against the Gators and they struggled against zone putting up 0.831 points per possession versus 0.872 they put up against man defenses. Teams privy to the numbers may try to play more zone this season and force more long threes, but as I showed earlier the Gators actually converted better on their deep shots than their shots closer to the line.
If you were like me you may have been scared to hear that they were moving the 3-point line back considering the fact the Gators struggled to shoot threes last year. The fact of the matter is that if they take good shots off the catch the change shouldn’t affect them at all. In fact, it might actually help their percentage as the longer line should deter them from the tough dribble three attempts they took a lot of last season. The longer line might keep coax them towards better shot selection and if so their percentage may even improve like the difference in catch and shoot numbers might suggest. Add in the fact that Florida’s should be able to adjust defensively better than a lot of teams to the change and all in all, I think the line furthering is good for the Gators.