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Why The Proposed Three-Point Rule Change Could Actually Benefit Rutgers Men’s Basketball

A farther distance from behind the arc could actually make the offense more efficient next season

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday, the NCAA announced a proposal that would move the distance of the three-point line from the basket from the current distance of 20 feet, 9 inches to the FIBA distance of 22 feet, 1.75 inches. That’s a significant move back for the line, just under a foot and a half.

This proposal will be reviewed by the Playing Rules Oversight Panel on June 5 and if approved, the move would go into effect for the upcoming 2019-20 season.

The NCAA men’s basketball rules committee presented three major points as their reasoning for the change:

  • Making the lane more available for dribble/drive plays from the perimeter.
  • Slowing the trend of the 3-point shot becoming too prevalent in men’s college basketball by making the shot a bit more challenging, while at the same time keeping the shot an integral part of the game.
  • Assisting in offensive spacing by requiring the defense to cover more of the court.

Last regular season, Division I college basketball teams shot on average 35.2% from the three-point line. During the NIT in March, the NCAA tested the proposed FIBA distance and teams shot a combined 33% from beyond the arc. It’s a small sample size and players didn’t have much time to adjust to the longer distance, but it does demonstrate three-point shooting percentages will drop if the rule goes into effect. It’s just a matter of how much?

At first glance, it’s easy to conclude that this potential change would be bad news for the Rutgers men’s basketball team. In the Steve Pikiell era, his teams have shot 30.2%, 29.6% and 31.2% from three-point range. All three seasons, Rutgers ranked 312th or worse out of 353 Division I teams from behind the arc. It’s fair to assume that moving the line back almost a foot and a half will increase the struggles of the offense, right? Actually, I think based on how next season’s roster is currently constructed, it could be the opposite.

Things changed for the positive last season when Rutgers became less dependent on three-point shooting and made attacking the rim it’s main priority on offense. Their shot selection improved, their shooting percentage from the floor improved, their free throw rate increased and they finished the season with its best offensive efficiency rating in five seasons, which was 105.6, ranked 152nd in Division I.

Rutgers won five of its seven Big Ten games making five or less shots from behind the arc. The only conference win that they took more than 16 attempts from deep was the upset road win at Iowa, when they made 11 of 23 from three-point range. It was an anomaly though, as they were on fire that night and also produced its second best shooting performance from two-point range in Big Ten play that game as well.

Of the returning players on the perimeter, Only Geo Baker and Peter Kiss seemed more comfortable playing primarily on the outside. On the flip side, Montez Mathis, Caleb McConnell and Ron Harper Jr. were all more effective with dribble penetration versus shooting from deep last season. Mathis was an elite penetrator at times and his free throw rate was 17th best in Big Ten play. McConnell played with bounce and could get to the rim effectively at times, shredding the Illinois pack line defense in his best game of the season. Harper Jr. improved significantly from three-point range down the stretch and hopefully he will be a better shooter overall as a sophomore. However, his versatility and skill set will only benefit from a three-point line farther back, giving him more space to operate.

In addition, the arrival of Jacob Young and Paul Mulcahy make this potential rule change even more intriguing from a Rutgers perspective. They have the potential to be the best two dribble drive players on the roster next season and can create their own shots, as well as for others. Young has an explosive first step and Mulcahy thrives driving in traffic and finding open teammates. With more space in the middle to drive, it will only make them more dangerous.

This also coincides with the possibility that Rutgers will look to play faster next season and based on the versatility of the roster, play smaller at times as well. Rutgers will have multiple players who can attack from the wing and in transition on the floor next season, regardless of which lineup combination Pikiell utilizes. Frontcourt players Eugene Omoruyi and Akwasi Yeboah can play inside and out, giving Rutgers players at the 4 spot that can help spread the floor even more so.

Another aspect having the line farther back is how speciality defenses would react. While the pack line and zone defenses may dare offenses to beat them from behind the arc even more so than before, Rutgers has a player who can create problems for that strategy. Pikiell called center Myles Johnson the best passer on the team many times last season. Although that title will reside with Mulcahy, it doesn’t change the fact that Johnson is a big, agile target who has great hands and vision to be a nightmare in the middle of the lane. The fact that the NCAA is not proposing to widen the lane, which FIBA does have with the deeper three-point line, works to the advantage of players like Johnson even more.

Now the fact is with all of that being said, Rutgers has to shoot much better next season to truly make a jump up the Big Ten standings and fight for the postseason. Getting into the paint and to the basket doesn’t score points, making shots does. The biggest beneficiary of this proposed rule change in my opinion is the mid-range jumper. It’s become an endangered species within college basketball as more three-point shots are taken each season, but it’s destined for a comeback with this potential new rule. This could really benefit a guy like Baker, who could be really effective shooting from the elbow. If Mathis can develop that shot as well, it will make him a lot more efficient.

Lastly, having players who can take advantage of having more space to drive and getting into the paint is a great opportunity for Rutgers to improve its free throw rate next season. They did a good job of getting to the line after the mid-season shift in reducing three-point attempts and finished with a 32.7% free throw rate in conference play, which was seventh best in Big Ten play. With a perimeter oriented lineup that has more space to drive, they could be even more effective in getting to the charity stripe next season. Of course, Rutgers needs to significantly improve is free throw shooting, as their 63.7% clip was 341st in Division I last season. However, it’s more likely they could improve from the line more so than from three-point range, even before the change to the FIBA distance. If they can both improve their rate of getting to the line AND make a higher percentage of free throw attempts, it would be a double gain.

Now Rutgers will be challenged on the defensive end by the potential change behind the arc as well. But again, their a perimeter oriented team now that is better suited to adjust to such a change. Also, opponents shot 35.3% from deep against Rutgers last season, which was 0.1 off the Division I average. So even if they maintain being an average defensive perimeter team regarding opponent’s three-point shooting percentage, they’d benefit from the likelihood teams overall will shoot worse a foot and a half further from the basket. They did struggle stopping dribble penetration last season for a good portion of conference play, so that should be a concern. It’s also likely Rutgers will look to press more often this season, so they could create more turnovers as well.

The June 5th decision can’t come soon enough in my opinion. I think the roster as constructed for next season has the personnel to play an up tempo style that can be even more effective at attacking the rim if this rule change goes into effect. As I said, they need to improve shooting the basketball, and still need to make some three’s, but making shots closer to the rim and getting to the line made Rutgers a better team last season. Being more efficient in those areas this coming season could make them something else entirely. A good team.

To view all the potential rule changes for next season, click here.

UPDATE: The NCAA officially extended the three-point line for the 2019-2020 season on June 5th!