MEN’S BASKETBALL: Elis unfazed by NCAA’s deeper three-point line
In three games, Yale has proven its entire starting lineup — from 6-foot guard Azar Swain ’21 to 6-foot-10 forward Paul Atkinson ’21 — is capable of hitting shots from downtown.
When new three-point lines appeared on college basketball courts throughout the nation this past summer, the hardwood at Yale’s John J. Lee Amphitheater and on its four Lanman Center basketball courts were no exception.
A directive from the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel last June pushed back the Division I men’s basketball three-point line for the 2019–20 season, increasing the distance between the rim and the arc from 20 feet and 9 inches to 22 feet and 1.75 inches — the international distance.
But the Bulldogs, like most teams across the nation, have not been fazed by the deeper line thus far. Although the sample size is limited to three games, Yale is shooting a collective 37.7 percent from beyond the arc, which ranks second in the Ivy League and 99th among the nation’s 353 DI teams as of Tuesday afternoon. Their shooting thus far represents a slight improvement on the team’s 36.3 three-point field goal shooting percentage from the previous line last year, a mark that also ranked second in the Ivy and 83rd in the nation.
“I am a fan of the new three-point line,” guard Azar Swain ’21 said before the season. “I think it will open up the floor and create better spacing in the college game as well. Personally, there wasn’t much of an adjustment, but extending my range some beyond the new college line was a point of focus this summer after the announcement was made. I think it will be good for our team and good for the game.”
The Elis’ success from deep was prominent during key moments of its Bay Area matchup on Monday night, an 84–79 overtime loss at San Francisco. Although they only converted one of five three-point attempts in overtime, the Bulldogs shot 40 percent or more from deep in both the first and second halves. Guard Matthue Cotton ’22, who did not miss a field goal attempt after halftime, led the team with four triples, including a towering conversion from the wing that tied the game at 72 with 3.1 seconds to play and forced Yale’s second trip to overtime in three games this season. The Elis defeated Stony Brook by five in their overtime season opener last Tuesday.
Yale trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half, but three-point shooting in the frame rescued an otherwise ugly period. The Bulldogs entered the halftime break trailing 35–29 and shooting just eight for 28 from the field; four of those field goals were three-pointers. The Elis ended the half on a run, making five of their final ten shots that included a corner three-pointer from forward Jordan Bruner ’20.
Yale’s offensive performance improved in the second half, and three-point shooting remained strong. The Elis came back to take their first lead of the half after Cotton entered the game and promptly hit a triple, following up his effort with six more points for the Bulldogs over the next 101 seconds. He hit his final three-pointer of the night on Yale’s first overtime possession, but the Dons prevented the Blue and White from scoring in the final two and a half minutes to earn an 84–79 win.
Todd Golden, the 34-year-old head coach of San Francisco, served as an assistant at Columbia from 2012 to 2014. Three separate Ivy League opponents — Princeton, Yale and Harvard — feature on the Dons’ nonconference schedule this fall. The two-time NCAA tournament champions defeated both Harvard and Dartmouth in consecutive November games last year and beat Princeton, 82–72, in the City by the Bay last Friday.
“I think anybody that can shoot the ball is happy about it,” guard and captain Eric Monroe ’20 said. “It spaces the floor out a little more [and] makes it easier to penetrate in the gaps. It also makes it harder for guys that aren’t great shooters necessarily now that it’s [farther]. It kind of separates the great shooters from the okay shooters.”
After testing out the deeper line during the 2018 and 2019 National Invitation Tournaments, the NCAA received positive feedback from an annual rules survey administered to coaches whose teams participated in the tournament and subsequently decided to enact the deeper line across DI men’s basketball. In 124 NIT games across the two seasons, teams attempted 0.3 more three-pointers a game than their regular season averages, but shot 33.8 percent from deep, two percentage points less than their collective regular season average of 35.8 percent.
Intuitively, as Monroe predicted, less effective shooters would suffer the greatest impact of the new line. But the Yale captain’s fellow starter forward Paul Atkinson ’21 might disagree. The Florida native, who currently leads Yale with 20 points a game, had attempted only one career three-pointer in 61 games as a first year and sophomore. He has already attempted four this season, making three.
“The three-point line hasn’t really affected much,” Atkinson said. “It pushes the game out a little bit but it hasn’t been too big of a deal.”
Atkinson told the News that coaches have been encouraging him to have more confidence in his shooting ability. If he continues to hit from deep, all five of the Elis’ starters would force opponents to defend them beyond the arc: 54 of Swain’s 79 made field goals were three-pointers last year, Bruner averaged nearly one a game and Monroe and guard Jalen Gabbidon ’21 have combined to hit five of their 10 attempts this season.
At its center, the NBA three-point line sits 23 feet and 9 inches from the basket, making it 19.25 inches deeper than the new
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