NCAA Tournament Bracket Tips: How Concerning Is Duke’s Three-Point Shooting?

Neither Duke nor LSU will win the 2019 national championship, if a recent historical trend holds true.

Since the 1999-’00 season, 2011’s UConn roster holds the distinction as being the worst three-point shooting team that’s won the National Championship Game. The Huskies made just 32.9 percent of their threes for the season, and they actually shot slightly worse than their season average in their six NCAA Tournament games, making 31.2 percent of their shots from deep.

As of Wednesday morning, Duke is shooting 30.7 percent from three and LSU is shooting 31.9 percent.

Keeping that in mind, the 2011 Huskies should be treated as the exception, not the rule, for the necessary level of three-point shooting for a national champion.

[RELATED: Stadium’s Latest NCAA Tournament Projections]

14 of the last 19 national champions shot at least 37 percent from three for the season. The average season-long three-point percentage by national champions since 2000 is 37.8 percent.

Season National Champion Season 3-PT. % NCAA Tournament 3-PT. % Difference
2018 Villanova 40.1% 41.5% +1.40%
2017 North Carolina 35.5% 29.3% -6.20%
2016 Villanova 36.2% 50.0% +13.80%
2015 Duke 38.7% 39.2% +0.50%
2014 UConn 38.7% 38.7% 0.00%
2013 Louisville* 33.3% 34.7% +1.40%
2012 Kentucky 37.8% 42.8% +5.00%
2011 UConn 32.9% 31.2% -1.70%
2010 Duke 38.5% 40.0% +1.50%
2009 North Carolina 38.5% 45.7% +7.20%
2008 Kansas 39.7% 38.7% -1.00%
2007 Florida 40.9% 41.0% +0.10%
2006 Florida 39.2% 37.8% -1.40%
2005 North Carolina 40.3% 41.7% +1.40%
2004 UConn 40.2% 41.3% +1.10%
2003 Syracuse 34.4% 42.5% +8.10%
2002 Maryland 37.4% 39.7% +2.30%
2001 Duke 38.5% 34.2% -4.30%
2000 Michigan State 37.8% 39.0% +1.20%
Average 37.8% 39.4% +1.60%

*Louisville’s 2013 national championship has been vacated

If we use 37 percent as the cut-off, that means it wouldn’t hurt Kentucky (36.2%), Tennessee (36.0%), Michigan (34.5%), Nevada (34.5%), Purdue (36.5%), Kansas (36.2%), Iowa State (36.3%), Villanova (35.3%), Kansas State (34.1%) and Louisville (35.7%) to have varying degrees of slight improvement from behind the arc before Selection Sunday if they want to make a deep tournament run.

On the other hand, Gonzaga (37.3%), North Carolina (37.3%), Michigan State (38.0%), Virginia (39.2%) and Marquette (39.9%) all have a track record of three-point success that falls in line with that of recent national champions.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that national champions often shoot better in the NCAA Tournament than they did over the course of the entire season. Since 2000, 14 national champions have shot the same three-point percentage or better in the NCAA Tournament.

On average, the last 19 national champions have shot 39.4 percent in the NCAA Tournament, so Duke’s three-point shooting would have to improve by roughly 8.5 percent from its first 28 games to its theoretical final six games for the Blue Devils to maintain the historical average of three-point shooting for a national champion.

Only three of the last 19 national champions have had a similar out-of-body three-point shooting run in the tournament.

Villanova shot 36.2 percent from three during the 2015-16 season, but the Wildcats made exactly half of their 112 three-point attempts during their national championship run – an improvement of 13.8 percent.

The other was a Carmelo Anthony-led Syracuse team in 2003, when the Orange shot 42.5 percent from three in the NCAA Tournament in a season in which they shot just 34.4 percent from behind the arc.

That’s an improvement of 8.1 percent.

North Carolina shot 45.7 percent from three in the 2009 NCAA Tournament to finish a season in which it shot 38.5 percent from behind the arc before March Madness.

12 of the last 19 national champions have shot within two percent – positively or negatively – of their season-long three-point percentage during their six-game NCAA Tournament run, so it’s rare that a team suddenly becomes noticeably better from behind the arc after Selection Sunday.

If there’s hope for Duke winning the national championship this season despite its three-point shooting, here it is. The Blue Devils are arguably the most talented team in the country, they have the frontrunner for National Player of the Year in Zion Williamson, and RJ Barrett is also a First Team All-America candidate.

Duke’s two-point shooting (58.6%) and offensive rebounding rate (36.1%) are nationally elite averages that almost guarantee an uber-efficient offense on a nightly basis, regardless of how many three-pointers are falling.

There’s also a recent historical precedent from a school just down the road from Durham that can create optimism for Duke faithful, who cheer for a team that struggles from outside.

North Carolina won the 2017 national championship in a season in which the Tar Heels shot just 35.5 percent from three on the season. That’s still roughly five percent better than Duke this season but North Carolina’s three-point shooting was actually noticeably worse in the NCAA Tournament.

The Tar Heels shot just 29.3 percent from behind the arc in the tournament – a drop-off of 6.2 percent.

That’s by far the largest decrease in three-point production by any of the last 19 national champions.

Like this year’s Duke team, 2017 North Carolina was an elite offensive rebounding team (a 41.3 percent offensive rebounding rate) and it took care of the ball, which allowed the Tar Heels to maximize their offensive possessions.

We’re specifically highlighting Duke because the Blue Devils are projected to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and they might be the worst three-point shooting team in the entire tournament field.

They’ll be a popular national champion pick – if not the most popular choice – but recent history says Duke’s three-point shooting, or the lack thereof, could be a serious hiccup in the Blue Devils’ pursuit of their sixth national championship.

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