For most people, it’s hard to imagine basketball without the three-point shot, but it actually hasn’t been a part of the game all that long. It wasn’t around for Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game, or when Jerry West led the Los Angeles Lakers to 33-straight wins in a single season, or when the Celtics won 11 titles in 13 years. John Wooden’s Bruins never stepped behind the arc, and even Bobby Knight’s infamous chair toss came before the age of the trifecta.
At the time, most people wrote it off as a “gimmick.”
In 1945, it was just that. More than three decades before it would be adopted as an official rule, the three-point arc was tested in a game between Columbia and Fordham. The Lions beat Fordham 73-58 that day, hitting 11 triples to Fordam’s nine. The three-point line popped back up 16 years later, in the short-lived American Basketball League, but it wasn’t until the 1979-80 year in the NBA that it became a permanent part of American basketball.
As often happens, the collegiate side made the change much more slowly. The Southern Conference began testing the arc in 1980, but it wouldn’t be until 1987 that the the three-point arc would become universal across the NCAA.
Since that time, the three-point line has moved and it’s shape has changed if ever so slightly. But it’s role in the sport is now cemented, and most couldn’t imagine the game without it.
Most, but not all.
After two years of playing fourth fiddle in the competitive OVC East, there’s a feeling in Cookeville that this may be the proverbial year. The Golden Eagles have arguably the best frontcourt duo in the league in Dwan Caldwell and Charles Jackson, who are a major reason TTU leads in the OVC in rebounding margin. They enter conference play tied for the best record in the East Divsion, and the fourth best RPI in a competitive league.
But there’s one problem: TTU can’t hit the three.
In a win over North Florida this week, the Eagles were 5-18 (27.8%) from deep. On the year, the Golden Eagles have hit just 29.5% of their three-point attempts, second worst in the conference, and ranked in the bottom-40 nationally.
Sub-30% three-point shooting isn’t all that uncommon. This year, four teams are currently shooting worse than 30% from the three-point line, with Jacksonville State, Austin Peay, and Southeast Missouri all joining Tech. Last year, two teams finished below that threshold: Tennessee State and SIUE, who would make the OVC Tournament.
But Tech’s aspirations are much larger than just making the OVC Tournament.
…and that’s where we have a problem.
Both SIUE and TSU last year finished below .500 in conference play. Of this year’s quartet of three-point slouches, only Tennessee Tech has a winning record. We see teams struggle to hit three’s and win games all the time.
But they don’t win titles.
To find a team that’s struggled as much as TTU is from behind the arc, and finished just .500 in the OVC, you have to go all the way back to the 1996-97 season. That year, SEMO finished 9-9 in the league despite hitting just 29.5% from 3-point range. Want to win a conference title? You better shoot a minimum 32% from deep, if the last 18 years are to be believed.
|Season||OVC Regular Season Champion||Three-point shooting percentage|
Six of the last seven teams to wear the conference crown have shot better than 37% behind the arc.
If TTU isn’t able to overcome history, three-point shooting may not the sole cause. Tennessee Tech enters league play struggling defensively, (7th league-wide in defensive efficiency) and on the wrong side of the turnover margin for the year.
But Tennessee Tech is partying like it’s 1975, not 2015. And we’re okay with that, even if it doesn’t get them to their ultimate destination.