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Small Sample Size Theater: What’s Up With The Three-Point Shooting In The NIT?

We’ve got a longer arc, and through 9 games, we’re getting some weird results.

NCAA Basketball: Oregon at Stanford
Oregon’s Victor Bailey made 7 of 8 three-point attempts and sent me down a rabbit hole.
John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday night, I tuned in for the last quarter of the Oregon/Rider first round NIT game because 1) The winner would advance to play the winner of Wednesday’s Marquette/Harvard game, and 2) Rider, the #6 seed was winning by 4 at the start of the fourth quarter.

Oregon ended up running away with the game, outscoring Rider 38-21 in the final 10 minutes, but it was a comment from the announcers that made me take pause. I forget the exact number that the announcers said, but here’s the tweet I sent out after I checked first the live stats and then Oregon’s KenPom page.

35% is fine. It’s above the efficiency cut off of 33.3%, so it’s fine. Oregon ranks #132 in the country in three-point percentage per KenPom on Wednesday morning, which is, again, fine.

By the time I had heard whatever the announcers said (might have been 12-of-23?) and checked the live stats, the Ducks were shooting 54.2% on threes in the game and they ended up finishing at 53.8% with a mark of 14-of-26.

Normally, this would just fall into the category of “well, they just got hot for a night.” And yeah, that probably has a lot to do with it. The difference here is that this game was contested with the FIBA three-point line, as all NIT games this year will be played, which is 20 inches further away from the basket than the usual college three-point line. Oregon went nuts from deep on a slightly more difficult shot than normal.

That brings us to look at Rider’s stats for the night, because if both teams were hot, then that is evidence that the longer three-point line is definitely a great thing for college hoops. Except....... Rider shot just 6-of-22 last night, or 27.3%. The Broncs are actually a slightly better shooting team than Oregon, posting a season long percentage of 36.1%.

The difference, of course, is that the Ducks were shooting from slightly deeper on their home floor in their home arena, while the Broncs were the road team playing in a building on the other side of the country from New Jersey.


I then went and checked every one of the nine NIT games from Tuesday night to see if this was an isolated incident.

Of the nine home teams, five of them — including Oregon — shot better a better percentage than their season average on three-pointers. Four of those teams — again including Oregon — were noticeably better, showing an increase of at least 10 percentage points. Of the other four teams, the ones that were not better than average, only one was still passable, as Louisville shot exactly 33.3% in their game. Western Kentucky was next best at 30% on the button, while Oklahoma State and Notre Dame both slipped below 28%.

Ok, so maybe there’s not that much of an impact from home teams shooting from a longer distance on their home floor, as only five of nine were better and six of nine were perfectly acceptable shooters on the night. The same can not be said for road teams shooting in an unfamiliar building. EIGHT of the nine road teams last night shot under their season average, although that includes a 37.0% from a Florida Gulf Coast team that shoots 37.3%. Shoutout to UNC-Asheville for knocking in 45% of their long range shots to break up the perfecto in the very last game of the night. Sadly, they lost by five in double-overtime to USC.

Seven of the eight underachievers showed drops of at least 8.8 percentage points, four of the eight dropped at least 14.8 percentage points, and two of the eight shot at least an amazingly awful 23 percentage points worse than average. Southeastern Louisiana are the kings of “uh oh this is really far away,” shooting — this is not a joke — 1-for-20 from behind the arc in the game for a shooting percentage of just 5%. The Lions missed their first six attempts, all in the first quarter, hit their first attempt of the second quarter, and then missed their final 13 tries of the game on their way to a 44 point loss to Saint Mary’s. The rule as always: Never go to Moraga.

Now look. It’s only nine games all with different teams involved, so this definitely requires the Small Sample Size Theater headline that’s plastered on the top of the page. However, what I can tell you is this: There appears to be somewhat of a trend of teams comfortable in their home gym knocking down shots from a little bit further away, while teams that are in an unfamiliar building are notably struggling to hit those same longer shots.

What does this mean for Marquette tonight against Harvard? Well, it’s hard to say. Yeah, Marquette’s the home team, but the Golden Eagles don’t actually play in the McGuire Center, and they don’t even practice on the arena floor for the most part as priority for it goes to women’s basketball and volleyball. That means it’s an unfamiliar setting for both the Golden Eagles and the Crimson. I guess the good news is Marquette falling from 41.5% on threes this season is a much better situation than Harvard falling from 35.5%. There’s also the fact that we know Andrew Rowsey is more accurate when he gets further away this season. Fingers crossed that the redshirt senior continues to not be fazed by anything.