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Wednesday, December 5, 2012
QOD: Twenty feet, nine inches

By Eamonn Brennan

Question of the Day is a new feature here at the blog, wherein yours truly answers one especially thoughtful question, Twitter response, blog comment, email or any other form of written communication designed to elicit (hopefully) intelligent discussion. Think of it like Quora, or a mini mailbag or Reddit AMA, albeit with fewer questions about horse-sized ducks

Today's QOD comes from Twitter follower Teddy O'Neill (@toneill92), who asks: "Do you think we've seen any drop in the significance of the role threes play in college basketball since the line was moved back?" 

I think there are two answers to this question, and they may or may not be in conflict.

The first answer comes from sheer math. Fortunately, because we live in this wondrous world of abundant WiFi and college basketball hoops stats databases and 10-foot-tall daffodils and houses made of rainbow sherbet, we can find this information immediately.

The college basketball 3-point line was moved to 20 feet, nine inches before the start of the 2008-09 season. In 2007-08, the last year with the old line, college basketball teams shot 35.02 percent from 3. According to Statsheet.com's wondrously helpful Three Point Tracker, we can see pretty clearly what followed. From 2008-09 to 2011-12, average 3-point percentage dropped to the low-34s.

But that's just percentage. What about attempts? Per Statsheet, in 2007-08 college basketball teams averaged 38.25 3-point field goal attempts per game. In 2008-09, they averaged 36.73. But for the first few weeks of this season, the attempts per game hasn't crept above that 37-percent mark again.

Are these numbers significant? Well, of course they are. One percentage point, or roughly two attempts, isn't much in a game or two, but over 35 games? For 347 teams? I'd say that's enough data to prove that the rule change had a definite effect on the game of college basketball, one we can rather easily pinpoint.

But does anyone in college basketball actually realize it? By which I mean to say, have teams consciously lessened their 3s? To coaches and players talk about avoiding 3-point field goals in any meaningful way? Does many an upset still hinge on whether the underdog has a particularly hot night from beyond the arc? Have coaches who want their teams to shoot a lot of 3s changed their strategies as a result? And has the game within the arc -- as foretold by the rules committee when the change was passed -- become less congested or more fluid?

I would say no to pretty much all of that, and that, I would argue, is the second answer. Statistically speaking, yes, the 2008-09 rule change had an effect. Stylistically, or perceptually, no, it didn't -- and that matters more than a few percentage points.

To send your QOD entry, hit me on Twitter (@eamonnbrennan), or send me an email here or here.