College basketball teams may be raining 3-pointers, but that’s not the Raider way

FAIRBORN — Three-point shots have risen dramatically since college basketball started allowing them in 1986-87 — so much so that, in some games, almost half the field-goal attempts are taken from beyond the arc.

It’s also become so ingrained in the thinking of NBA teams that any possession that doesn’t end in a 3 or an inside bucket is considered a wasted trip down the floor.

But while the analytics may support gearing an offense that way — shooting 40% from 3 produces the same amount of points as 60% from 2 — not everyone has gotten on board with letting it fly from long range.

“We feel like we’ve had a good succession of good centers. And a lot of people don’t play that way anymore, but I love it,” Wright State coach Scott Nagy said of going with bigger lineups.

“I hardly run sets for jump shots. All the sets I run are to throw it inside. I want to get to the free-throw line.”

ExploreLack of consistency has Nagy perplexed

Nagy’s rationale is supported by the math, too. Any possession that ends in two foul shots is almost always a success — especially this year for the Raiders, who are on pace to set a program record with 76.8% shooting.

From an offensive efficiency perspective, the Raiders are a healthy 70th in the nation with 1.048 points per possession.

If they were fouled every time they had the ball, given their impressive free-throw clip, they conceivably would average 1.536 points per possession.

Purdue leads the country this year at 1.188.

“They always say if you shoot 33% from 3, it’s like 50% from 2. Well, 50% from 2 is great. But I’d rather take 75% at the free-throw line,” Nagy said.

“If our team went to the free-throw line every time down the floor, we’d score 150 points.”

That’s only a mild exaggeration. In a 75-possession game, the Raiders would score 115 points.

“If you just chuck 3′s, you won’t get fouled. I like the free-throw line. That’s where we want to be,” Nagy said.

In research done by SI.com’s Isaac Schade, UNLV led the nation in 3-point attempts in 1986-87 with 781.

Only three other teams tried more than 500.

The Runnin’ Rebels may have seemed then like a team willing to live and die by the 3, but that amount would rank only 125th in 2018-19 (the last season that wasn’t impacted by COVID-19).

Savannah State fired up 1,119 threes in ‘18-19 to lead the nation. Villanova hoisted 1,158 while winning the national title in 2017-18.

The 3-point distance was 19 feet, 9 inches when it was implemented, and Division-I teams averaged 9.04 attempts and 3.51 makes in the inaugural year.

It was moved to 20-9 in 2008-09 and then to the FIBA distance of 22-1¾ in 2019-20.

In 2018-19, teams averaged 22.45 attempts and 7.75 makes.

In 2019-20, slowed a bit by the greater distance, they averaged 21.69 attempts and 7.26 makes.

The collective 3-point percentage generally stayed between 34.0 and 35.9 until the line was moved back three years ago.

It dropped under 34% for the first time in ‘19-20 to 33.47%.

There was an uptick, though, in 2020-21 to 33.98%.

Though Nagy’s style would never be mistaken for Rick Pitino’s 3-point-happy offense, the Raiders actually would fall in the middle of the pack throughout his six years — from a high of 23.4 tries per game in 2018-19 to 19.3 this season.

And the drop off to the current levels is more personnel-oriented.

The Raiders are shooting 32.6% from the arc and making 6.3 per game this season — the lowest clips in both categories since Nagy’s arrival.

They shot 38.1% in his first season and 37% last year.

“We’re missing one of our best shooters for sure,” Nagy said, referring to injured sophomore guard Alex Huibregtse. “We have other guys who are just not shooting the ball confidently like they should.

“Trey Calvin isn’t one of them. I wish Trey would take more of them. I feel he passes them up. But I can’t completely explain (the dip).”

Even without getting points in bunches, the Raiders are still third in the Horizon League and 81st nationally in scoring at 75.1 per game.

They’re tied for 49th nationally (out of 350 teams) with 499 free-throw attempts, and junior wing Tanner Holden leads the country in free throws made with 150 and is second in attempts with 188.

Northern Kentucky is one of the most active 3-point shooting teams in the league with 26.4 attempts per game while shooting 34.2%. But coach Darrin Horn’s philosophy is more akin to Nagy’s.

“We’re definitely 3-point friendly. I don’t pay attention to the number. We don’t have a goal every game. But I think it suits our personnel,” he said.

“But if I had a Grant Basile, we’d be throwing that thing in a whole lot more.”

The Raiders’ 6-foot-9 junior is fifth in the league in scoring with a 17.8 average.

“I think winning takes some combination (that includes) getting to the foul line,” Horn says. “That’s what has made Scott’s teams so good for so long. Whether they take a lot of 3′s or not, they can shoot, they always have a post presence, and then they murder you on the glass — and they get to the foul line partly because they murder you on the glass.

“Now, they’re scoring in all three areas. That’s why you look up, and they’re leading the league in scoring every year.”

The Raiders finished fifth nationally in scoring with an 82.0 average in 2020-21.

“We actually don’t talk about the 3 with our guys. We do talk a lot about trying to get to two feet (from the basket) and finishing,” said Horn, who led Western Kentucky to the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2008.

He added: “We won two games last month where the other team made 13 or 14 threes.

“They didn’t get to the foul line.”

FRIDAY’S GAME

Wright State at Oakland, 9 p.m., ESPN2, 980

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