Starting 5: The case for launching 3s late, luck of the Irish and North Carolina dominates
Welcome back to the Starting 5. The Starting 5 is written multiple times per week by Adam Spencer to keep you up-to-date on all the news and events in the world of college hoops. You can follow Adam on Twitter at @AdamSpencer4 and @BlueChipGrit.
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1. Opening tipoff
You’re a college basketball coach. Your team is down by 8 late in the second half, say, about 3 minutes left. What do you do?
You hear it every March and, frankly, every time a team trails late in a game. The broadcasters can’t help themselves. They always point out that teams “don’t need a 3 here.” They say “you can get a quick 2 and extend the game.”
But, is that really the best plan?
Analytics have evolved the game to the point where (smart) coaches will now foul when up by 3 in the game’s closing seconds rather than let an opponent attempt a potential game-tying 3. We have seen coaches like Nate Oats at Alabama lead his team to the SEC regular-season and tournament titles last year with an offense predicated on eliminating mid-range jumpers.
But, we haven’t evolved to the point yet where coaches tell their teams to let it fly from 3-point range when down 8-12 points in the final 3 minutes of a game. And that’s a shame, because it’s hurting their chances to win.
When you’re down that much late in a game, you’re already in need of a miracle. I don’t care if, as a team, you only make 30% of your 3s on the season. You’re beyond the point where shooting your season average is going to be of any use.
To make it work, you need to shoot 50% from beyond the arc in those final 3 minutes. But, all too often, teams don’t even try to do that, opting instead for “quick 2s” followed by fouls. I don’t know the statistics on it, but that strategy seems to work out less than 5% of the time.
So why not change it up?
If you have 4 possessions and make 2 3s on those possessions, that’s 6 points (even I can do that math). If you have those same 4 possessions, you have to make 3 2-pointers to equal 6 points. That’s 75%.
In my opinion, you’re more likely to hit 50% of your 3s than 75% of your 2s. Again, both of those numbers are well above a team’s regular shooting percentage. But, if you can’t go above and beyond in the final minutes of a close game, you don’t deserve to win.
Much like Lane Kiffin and other college coaches have started going for it on fourth down more often and going for 2-point conversions more often, shooting 3s at the end of games when you’re trailing by 7-12 points needs to become more common. I guarantee it’ll lead to more upset wins.
Yes, it’ll also lead to some teams collapsing and losing by even more than they would have if they’d played it safe and gotten those beloved “quick 2s,” but a loss is still a loss. Doesn’t matter how many points you lose by. Go big or go home, especially in March.
2. SEC notes
Kentucky picked a bad time to fall into old habits.
The Wildcats (who, I should add here, I picked to win it all) went 4-for-15 from 3-point range. Big man Oscar Tshiebwe had 30 points and 16 rebounds. But, John Calipari picked the worst time to go back to his aversion to 3-pointers.
Yes, I know Kellan Grady was struggling from beyond the arc recently, but you can’t play him 40 minutes when he’s going 1-for-7 from 3. Give more minutes to Davion Mintz, who went 1-for-3 from long range in 24 minutes of work (before fouling out). Let TyTy Washington shoot more 3s. Do anything to get more clean looks from beyond the arc.
Coach Cal and the Wildcats didn’t do that. Instead, they let Saint Peter’s control the game offensively, and now the 15-seeded Peacocks are moving on. Meanwhile, my national championship pick is heading home, and I couldn’t be more upset with how it happened.
- Speaking of championship picks, if you chose the Vols to win it all, you should feel really good about yourselves. Certainly, you should feel much better than I do right now. Tennessee controlled the game. Santiago Vescovi led the Vols’ 3-point efforts, scoring 18 points on 6-for-8 from long range:
— Caleb (@VolsAndDraft) March 17, 2022
- The Vols finished 14-for-24 from beyond the arc in an 88-56 win over 14-seed Longwood. There’s not a team in the country (Gonzaga and Arizona included) that can hang with Tennessee when it plays the way it did on Thursday. We’ll see if the Vols can match that effort on Saturday against Michigan.
- Arkansas provided us with the epitome of “survive and advance” on Thursday night against a tough Vermont team. Vermont was a veteran-laden team. That’s exactly the sort of mid-major squad we’ve seen upset Power 5 squads in the past. But, Arkansas is actually a veteran team. And, those veterans played huge roles in Thursday’s 75-71 win. Stanley Umude, one of the most underrated players in the SEC, scored a game-high 21 points to go with 9 rebounds in a 75-71 win over the Catamounts. Jaylin Williams had a 13-point, 10-rebound double-double. JD Notae bounced back from a 5-point performance in the SEC Tournament to score 17. This looks a lot like Arkansas last year, when the Hogs were constantly involved in close games while advancing to the Elite Eight. We’ll see if they can put some distance between themselves and future opponents.
Next, let’s look at how the Big Ten performed.
3. B1G notes
Iowa was a popular pick to advance to the Final Four. I was happy to see that, as a Kansas hater. But, the Hawkeyes couldn’t capitalize on their Big Ten Tournament momentum against 12-seed Richmond.
The Spiders played like they had 8 legs each, limiting the damage Iowa was able to do. Keegan Murray remained unstoppable, scoring 21 points. Patrick McCaffrey scored 18. But, no other Hawkeye scored more than 6 points in the game.
My colleague, Connor O’Gara, painted a bleak picture of the Fran McCaffrey era in Iowa City:
-11 NCAA Tournament appearances
-0 Sweet 16 berths pic.twitter.com/ue4HZGmNOY
— Connor O'Gara (@cjogara) March 17, 2022
That’s right – 11 NCAA Tournament appearances with 0 Sweet 16s. That’s not great. The Hawkeyes now have a lot of questions to answer this offseason all of a sudden.
- Michigan was a team not many thought should have made the field of 68 this year. But, the Wolverines managed to overcome a sluggish first half to outscore 6-seed Colorado State 46-27 in the second half to win 75-63. Four different Michigan players scored more than 13 points. Hunter Dickinson was unstoppable in the paint. Now, though, they run into the buzzsaw that is Tennessee. Do they have another upset in the tank?
Next, let’s move on to the ACC.
4. ACC notes
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish waited until the clock struck midnight and it was officially St. Patrick’s Day, but then the luck of the Irish came through in a big way in the First Four matchup against Rutgers.
After Ron Harper Jr. did his thing and played hero for the Scarlet Knights, Paul Atkinson Jr. showed his mettle with a great play to seal an 89-87 win in double-overtime for the Irish. As you can see below, his offensive rebound and clutch putback was the difference in the game:
NOTRE DAME IS DANCING AFTER BEATING RUTGERS IN 2OT
WHAT A GAME pic.twitter.com/kQM6Hn7uKY
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 17, 2022
Coach Mike Brey said he was going to drink some Irish whiskey on the plane ride to San Diego, where No. 6 seed Alabama awaits on Friday afternoon (more on that game in a bit). For now, though, Atkinson and his 26 points are riding high as Notre Dame silenced some of the critics (including me) who said they didn’t belong in this tournament.
Can the Irish win again? The Tide have had a roller coaster of a season, so anything is possible on Friday!
- The North Carolina Tar Heels looked incredible on Thursday against Marquette. The Heels’ victory was never in doubt, as they cruised to a 95-63 win over the Golden Eagles. That was the biggest margin of victory ever for an 8-seed over a 9-seed:
🚨 NCAA RECORD
— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) March 17, 2022
- Brady Manek, the Oklahoma transfer forward, has picked a good time to play his best basketball. He’s scored 20+ points in 4 of his last 5 games. He had 28 points and 11 rebounds on Thursday night in the blowout win:
— Carolina Basketball (@UNC_Basketball) March 17, 2022
- North Carolina hit a program NCAA Tournament record 13 3-pointers in the win, and Manek accounted for 5 of them. This is going to be a tough Tar Heels team to eliminate. No. 1 seed Baylor is going to have to watch out!
Next, let’s take a look ahead to the best games on Friday’s schedule.
5. Outlet pass
Day 1 was exciting, as the first day of March Madness always is. Congrats if your brackets are still intact. You’re probably a liar, though, as Thursday’s games were wildly unpredictable. Will Friday’s games match that craziness? Here are the 5 matchups I can’t wait to watch on Friday:
- No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 10 Davidson (Friday at 9:40 p.m. ET on CBS) – The Foster Loyer revenge game? Yeah, sign me up. I have the Wildcats winning this one in my bracket. I think the Spartans are a good, but not great, team this year. Davidson could light it up from 3-point range and pull off the upset.
- No. 5 Houston vs. No. 12 UAB (Friday at 9:20 p.m. ET on TNT) – I have UAB winning this game. Andy Kennedy has done a great job with the Blazers. Jordan “Jelly” Walker is a fun player to watch. Houston is banged up. All of that points to a UAB win. So, don’t be surprised if Houston wins big, is what I’m saying.
- No. 6 LSU vs. No. 11 Iowa State (Friday at 7:20 p.m. ET on CBS) – No, the Tigers don’t have their head coach (Will Wade). But, they still have an elite defense. And, Iowa State recently scored 36 points in a regulation college basketball game. That’s almost unheard of. I think the Tigers are being massively undervalued in this game.
- No. 6 Alabama vs. No. 11 Notre Dame (Friday at 4:15 p.m. ET on TNT) – No one knows what this Alabama team is going to look like once the ball is tipped on Friday. Even if the Tide go up by 20 points in the first half, that’s no guarantee they’ll hold on for the win. This, on paper, looks like one of the most unpredictable matchups of the day.
- No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 10 Loyola-Chicago (Friday at 12:15 p.m. ET on CBS) – We all know what the Ramblers are capable of in this tournament. Ohio State seemed like a mediocre Big Ten team this year, especially down the stretch and in their first-round loss to Penn State in the B1G Tournament. This could be a game where an upset is in the works. It’s also the first game of the day, which is always exciting!
I predicted 5 of the 16 games on Friday that could be good. But, honestly, all 16 have the potential to lead to Madness. Bring all your TVs into the living room, ignore your email, and settle in for another exciting day of college hoops action!
Enjoy the Starting 5? Have a question? Want to yell at me about something? Follow me on Twitter @AdamSpencer4 or email me at ASpencer@SaturdayDownSouth.com.