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The decline of shooting in NCAA basketball

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Ever wonder why you hear so many basketball fans in general, and Kentucky fans in particular, claim that they wish we would recruit a "shooter?"  I have heard it many times, and some may wonder why.  Is shooting a lost art?  How lost is it?

This isn't really a pressing question, but I think it deserves a little analysis.

First, let's look at shooting historically in the NCAA.  Has it improved or degraded over the years?  Thanks to the NCAA, who provides some of these aggregated statistics, I have performed a few analyses just for ASoB readers.

First, shooting historically.  We will be looking at all NCAA Division I schools since 1948:

What we can see from this graph is that 2-point shooting among NCAA schools gradually improved until it peaked at 48% in 1981.  What has happened since?  Well, we can see that the shooting remained relatively constant until about 1989, when it began a steady decline.  It reached its nadir in 2000 at 43.5%, and has not risen significantly since.

But surely, you say, the 3-point line had an effect on all that.  It would seem that it did.  Let's have a look at shooting since the inception of the 3-point line rule in 1987:

This graph is also kind of interesting.  We can see that 3-point shooting, originally quite good at 38.4% for all of Division I, began an almost immediate decline, and seemed to take 2-point shooting with it.

But perhaps the most striking graph of them all is this one, which shows 3-point attempts vs. 3-point shots made.  3 point attempts have risen continuously since 1987, first sharply and then less so after 1995.  But made 3-pointers has risen only very slightly since 1995.

So if it seems to you that shooting is worse now than ever in NCAA basketball, it's pretty much because it is.  Shooters like Rotnei Clarke and Alex Legion are at a premium these days, it seems.  If I were to posit a reason, I would guess that it is because young players work harder now on their moves to the basket and athleticism than shooting.  This is most likely the fault of the AAU system and the changes wrought during the Sonny Vacarro years, where AAU teams began to play a faster style that focuses more on individual athleticism and getting off lots of shots, versus working the ball into the best possible position to score.

It remains to be seen whether or not shooting percentages and overall shooting skills will undergo a further decline in coming years, but given what we see here, we must really wonder what moving the 3-point line back is going to do to shooting percentage.  My feeling is that if a guy can't make a 19'9" shot at better than 35%, his odds of shooting a higher percentage from further out are nonexistant.

Will the new line represent a return to more 2 point shooting, and stem the rise of 3-point shooting?  Given this data, I would have to say the answer is likely to be "Yes".