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Impact small when taking measure of new 3-point line

Xavier's Brad Redford fires from behind the new 3-point distance, 20 feet 9 inches. Xavier's Brad Redford fires from behind the new 3-point distance, 20 feet 9 inches. (Al Behrman/Associated Press)
By Joe Kay
Associated Press / January 25, 2009
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CINCINNATI - Only a foot farther back, the new 3-point line in men's college basketball hasn't bothered players who make their mark launching the game's most rewarded shot.

Teams are shooting it slightly less often, though. And that's noteworthy by itself.

After watching men's teams attempt (and make) a record number of 3-pointers the last few years, the NCAA pushed the arc back this season from its distance of 19 feet 9 inches. They hoped the move to 20 feet 9 inches would discourage so many 3-pointers and invigorate the inside power game.

Is it working? Depends on whether you ask someone who's taking the shot or counting how many of them fall. Teams are trying slightly fewer 3-pointers, the first time in years there's been a decline in attempts.

It isn't a huge difference. Teams are trying an average of 18.42 3-pointers per game, down slightly from last season's 19.07, an all-time high.

But achieving even a small drop-off was the goal. The guardians of the college game made the change out of concern over the growing reliance on the 3-point shot and congestion under the basket, which negated inside scoring. Coming into this season, the number of 3-pointers attempted per game had increased virtually every year since 1996 in men's Division 1.

"Coaches may look and say it doesn't make any difference, but it does make a difference," said Larry Keating, senior associate athletics director at Kansas who was chair of the NCAA men's basketball rules committee that recommended the change in 2007.

The 3-point shooting percentage also has taken a small dip, from 35.23 percent last season to 34.32.

"I guess it's not a big change in one sense," Keating said, "but it is in the sense that for the first time in eight or nine years, the percentage has gone down. In my mind, we've accomplished one of the things we were looking for, and we did it quicker than we thought we'd do it."

When the change was announced, some coaches were concerned that teams would pack in their zone defenses even tighter in an effort to force opponents to shoot from behind the new arc, making it even more difficult to get the ball inside. That hasn't happened, mainly because the game's best shooters quickly adjusted to the new distance.

"I thought actually it would have an impact on the game," Louisville's Rick Pitino said. "I thought people would play more zones, and they have not."

For most coaches, the change has been minimal and manageable.

Bona fide 3-point shooters simply spent the summer honing their shots from one step farther away. Their biggest adjustment was recalibrating their internal GPS systems - players must know where they are on the floor without having to look down to find the arc.

"It's an instinctive thing," Xavier guard B.J. Raymond said. "You don't really look [at the floor]. You just catch and shoot."

The longer shot has had more impact on players who shoot the three only occasionally and aren't skilled marksmen. Coaches had to decide whether to let the marginal shooters keep shooting.

"For the good shooters, it didn't matter," North Carolina State coach Sidney Lowe said. "It's the ones that were average that are still trying to shoot it. And the problem is, they're not shooting it from where the line is - they're shooting it a foot or two beyond that, so it's even a little deeper."

Teams with proven 3-point shooters have adapted well.

"We're a pretty good 3-point shooting team, and our number is right about the same as last year," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "I don't see much of an effect right now. It'll be interesting to see when all the information is in at the end of the year, but I think the trend is very minor."

One common complaint from coaches is that the new arc clutters the floor and could confuse some players. NCAA women's teams kept the arc at 19 feet 9 inches. Some college teams play on floors with a third arc - the NBA line at 23 feet 9 inches.

"There are so many lines out there. It's like a playground with hopscotch courts all over the place," Gregory said.

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