KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — People across the country watching the first round of the NCAA tournament last week found it rightly hilarious when they saw a couple of stadium workers scurry up a ladder and place a construction level over the edge .
It turns out Iowa players who were confused when their shots rattled off the iron during pregame warm-ups were right: It wasn’t perfectly horizontal.
The NCAA later conceded that “a minor adjustment” was made before the game, and the Cyclones were quick to say afterwards that it didn’t affect their 59-41 loss to Pittsburgh. But whether the rim was physically off-center or caused by Iowa State not being up mentally, the result was unmistakable: The Cyclones started the game 22-2 behind, finished the game with 23.3% from the ground and, what is perhaps most amazing was a miserable 2 of 21 from 3-point range.
“It just didn’t go in,” said Cyclones sniper Gabe Kalscheur. “Sometimes that happens.”
From the 3-point line it happens more than ever.
Teams shot 31.2% from beyond the arc in opening weekend, the worst percentage since the NCAA added the line for the 1987 tournament. And of the 16 teams that advanced into week two, half shot worse than 30% this past weekend; only UConn was above the 40% mark going into their game against Arkansas on Thursday night.
“I think this: I think there’s a lot of emphasis on defense in college basketball now,” said Tennessee coach Rick Barnes, whose team was 4-of-16 off Louisiana in the first round but hit back against Duke .
“They’re coming down the court – whether we’re playing Louisiana or Duke the other day – can we find a way to score here? Can we shake loose and get a good look? And when you get it, I think players are often surprised that they look so good,” Barnes continued. “I think defense probably has as much to do with it as anything else.”
This applies to the paint and the scope.
The story goes on
Teams have become so adept at plugging the inside space, preventing light buckets in the post, and clean shots to the rim preventing the ball from getting stuck outside. And when it’s there, the game has become so physical that almost every look is challenged by 3.
“There’s a lot of fouling going on, especially on the edge,” Huskies coach Dan Hurley told people who try to use screens on the edge, and it clouds and messes up the game.
Defense is a valid theory for all of these first-round building blocks, but there are others.
For one, the line itself keeps moving back: It started at 19 feet, 9 inches from the rim, moved back a foot for the 2008-09 season, and slipped back again to meet the FIBA international standard of 22 feet, 1-3 / 4 inches for the 2019-20 season.
Also alternating: the ball.
The NCAA tournament uses a new iteration of Wilson’s Evo NXT, which the company describes as basketball’s “highest caliber” and which was jointly developed with the NCAA and several member schools. Wilson general manager Kevin Murphy said the ball has an “extra grip” that reportedly makes it easier to shoot from long range, but it’s nonetheless a departure from the ball schools use during the regular season and in conference tournaments have.
Division I teams clipped 34 percent in the regular season, or nearly 3 percent better than during the Big Dance. And eight of 68 teams had their worst 3-point competitive games of the season during the NCAA tournament.
What makes the dip in shooting odd, however, is the fact that 36 teams that started the tournament actually shot better than the national average this season. That includes five of the top 10 teams from across the arc and two of them — Xavier and Michigan State — who were alive for the Sweet 16.
Spartans coach Tom Izzo wrote off poor 3-point shooting based on sample size.
“In a conference season, we’re a team that shot almost 40% from 3,” said Izzo, whose team was 5-of-14 against Southern California and 2-of-16 against Marquette, his second-worst 3-point shooting performance of the season. “The sample size, two games, I don’t think anyone can think of it. We just didn’t shoot that well in those two games.”
Who hasn’t shot it well? Purdue with the first places, which was 5 of 26 out of the arc in its stunning loss to No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson, and second-placed Arizona, who was 3 of 16 when they fell to No. 15 Princeton.
However, that wasn’t enough for UCLA coach Mick Cronin to worry about poor shooting during the NCAA tournament.
“So we’re talking about 1%?” he asked. “If we’re not talking about my portfolio, I’m not interested.”
AP sports writers Mark Anderson in Las Vegas and Ralph D. Russo in New York contributed to this report.
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