One of the recurring themes of this and every season’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament is the importance of the 3-point shot. Over and over, the highlight reels show us the dramatic after-effects of the three: Drew Nicholas hitting the fall-away, which allowed Maryland to avoid an upset in the first round; Butler’s Darnell Archey torpedoing 8 of 9 to sink Louisville; and Richard Midgley of Cal answering N.C. State’s Scooter Sherrill with a three in the final seconds. The list stretches on and on with examples from this year’s tourney alone.
Yes, March Madness’ dramatic threes result in some goosebump-raising, Bill Raftery-screaming moments that should make the NBA jealous. But many of these “One Shining Moment” buckets become dimmed by the passage of time and the accumulation of memorable shots altogether too similar. The result is an overstuffed and cluttered collection of buzzer-beater memories that remain buried until Pontiac digs them up in a vain attempt to sell cars. (Bryce Drew or no Bryce Drew, I’m still not buying a Grand Am).
Certainly there are moments that remain magical — Laettner’s turn-around jumper against Kentucky or Tyus Edney’s drive to the basket vs. Missouri come to mind — but what we remember about these amazing shots is not the shots themselves, but the difficulty in getting the chance to shoot in the first place. Straight-up threes at the buzzer may be memorable at the time, but they’ve become completely ubiquitous in the annals of March Madness.
The question, then, is this: Why so many 3-point miracles?
Simply put, the collegiate 3-point shot is too easy to make.
Everyone and their little brother Jimmy can make the college three. Maybe Jimmy only makes one out of 15 and does it in front of your mom in the driveway instead of 20,000 fans, but he can make the shot. It’s hardly more than a free throw, for crying out loud.
Considering the fact that they’ve been hoisting it up from the same distance since they were little Jimmy’s age, the fact that most college basketball players can hit the three in their sleep is not surprising. Those college phenoms who have the talent to move up to the NBA, however, are faced with a revolutionary prospect upon arrival. The NBA 3-point line, you see, is a full FOUR FEET further away from the bucket than the college stripe. The increase in degree of difficulty is not overwhelming for athletes as gifted as those that play in the NBA, but it is enough to definitively separate the moderately good shooters from the truly great ones.
With fewer shooters capable of hitting from downtown, the NBA features a paucity of dramatic threes in comparison to the college game. The result is not a decrease in overall excitement for buzzer-beaters but an increase in drama for each individual shot that falls. Thus, it is logical to assume that if the NCAA were to move the college 3-point line back one or two feet, the magic of the last-second three wouldn’t disappear. It would instead be focused around a few moments, instead of spread throughout so many.
It’s not as though there aren’t college ballers talented enough to hit from further back. Almost every three Duke’s J.J. Redick seems to take comes from NBA range because few teams will let him shoot from any closer. Kansas’ Kirk Hinrich bombed from the NBA line repeatedly in the Jayhawks’ Elite Eight victory over Arizona, as if trying to impress the scouts that were doubtless in attendance. The fact is that the best college shooters can already hit from further outside. Why not separate the men from the boys?
There is no such thing as too much excitement when it comes to college basketball in March. But the NCAA should do something to prevent these magical memories from blurring together in a flurry of near-perfect 3-point performances.
College basketball players — even with their ranks depleted as they are by the absence of the Kobes and LeBrons — are phenomenal athletes who are constantly improving their level of play. They have come a long way since the days when the 3-point field goal was introduced. It is too easy for them now. In order to advance the game, the NCAA should take the three a step back.