Extra foot may mean bigger changes for defenses

Originally Published: May 24, 2007
By Andy Glockner | ESPN.com

Change is afoot. Or rather, a foot. But is it a good thing?

After the initial announcement earlier this month that the men's basketball rules committee had endorsed pushing the 3-point arc back to 20 feet, 9 inches, the party line was twofold: (1) we're going to see fewer 3s taken because of the increased distance; and (2) upsets will become less frequent because it won't be as easy for teams to rain 3s to compensate for size and skill deficits.

In reality that probably won't be the case, not if you look at recent history and listen to the coaches whose teams should theoretically be impacted the most by this change. In fact, the net results may be the opposite of what was originally suggested. The biggest adjustment might actually come on the defensive end.

Stephen Curry
Brian A. Westerholt/WireImage.comDavidson's Stephen Curry made 117 3-pointers as a freshman, the fifth-most in the country last season.
It doesn't seem like the extra foot itself will stop teams from taking the outside shot, at least initially. The NCAA ran a test case two seasons ago when the 20-9 line was used in some early-season tournaments. The percentage of shots taken and shots made from behind the arc in those games was slightly less than the other games that year. The overall impact was marginal.

As such, coaches of some of the nation's most prolific 3-point shooting teams this past season don't expect the longer shot to change their philosophies ... or others'.

"It won't really deter us," said Bradley head coach Jim Les, whose Braves were in the top two nationally in both 3s made per game and 3-point percentage this past season. "I'm not going to say we'll shoot more, but I think we'll probably shoot the same amount, and I'll be surprised if it changes too much our way of thinking."

"I don't know whether [teams] will take [fewer]," said new Denver coach Joe Scott, who will be installing the Princeton offense he ran at Air Force and Princeton. "I think people will just step back. ... For us, I don't think it's going to change anything."

Since the greater distance -- three inches farther than the international 3-point line -- should impact marginal shooters more than elite shooters, smaller schools could find more of an advantage from the deeper line.

This past season, there were 28 players who took at least 200 3s and made at least 40 percent of them. Only nine of them were from BCS schools. Eleven of the 15 teams that shot 40 percent or better from the arc last season were from outside the "big six" conferences. Granted, the level of play in some of the smaller conferences can help bolster shooting percentages, but the numbers are undeniable.

This potential advantage will be important for teams like Denver, which will be heavy on layups and 3s with very little in between.

"I think it's going to help our offense," Scott said. "...It should open [the game] up to skillfulness. It can only help if you can make the shot."

How people choose to guard the 3-point line may be the biggest challenge under the new rule -- and could create game conditions very different from what proponents of the change expect. (The line will stay the same 19-9 in women's basketball.)

While the arc is only moving a foot farther from the basket, it increases the area inside the arc by about 11 percent. That means it will be harder to close out on shooters at the 3-point line, especially if a team makes an extra pass and a defender is forced to rotate and cover the greater distance. This should create more wide-open looks from a 3-point line that's only nominally longer.

Since the lane won't be widened to accompany this rule change, making smothering the paint an alternative, a number of coaches already foresee the future defensively. It won't resemble Southern Illinois' sticky man-to-man.

"What I don't understand is that they're talking about the [new rule change] opening the lane and creating more space," said Samford coach Jimmy Tillette, whose Bulldogs took a higher percentage of shots from 3 than any other team in the country last season. "I don't see that. We play all matchup zone, and I think people will simply play more zone. They won't chase you. I don't see the lane opening up at all. I see sagging man-to-man, I see zone, I see nobody being able to get into gaps."

The bottom line? What is being represented as a change to offensive basketball likely will create more changes on the defensive end. As such, the 3 will become more the domain of good shooters who still will be able to find the "zone" -- and they'll have to, because starting with the 2008-09 season, they'll probably find themselves facing a zone much more.

Andy Glockner is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's college basketball coverage and is the host of the ESPNU College Basketball Insider podcast.