This post originally appeared over at AssemblyCall.com, where Andy, Ryan, and I host a regular IU basketball postgame show. Stop by AssemblyCall.com/live as soon as the IU-Kentucky game ends Friday night for immediate analysis and fan reaction.
Before you begin reading this, understand that I acknowledge how small the sample size is that I’m about to analyze. For this reason, I am quick not to make many predictive conclusions in this post.
But the main point I will make is a pretty simple one, so simple that I think even this little bit of anecdotal data can make it.
My one and only goal with this post is to assuage any fears IU fans might have (like the ones discussed here and that we discussed on our Indiana-Kentucky preview show) that playing in the Georgia Dome could negatively affect the Hoosiers’ 3-point shooting.
[Related: Andy ranks the Sweet 16 matchups 1-8.]
Oh sure, Indiana may well have an off shooting night from downtown Friday night. That could very well happen.
But based on the anecdotal evidence from five sets of NCAA Tournament games played at the Georgia Dome, if Indiana – a very, very good 3-point shooting team – does shoot poorly from 3-point range, it will not be the fault of the cavernous Georgia Dome and its ostensibly challenging shooting background.
Since most reasonable observers agree that Indiana probably needs to shoot well from 3-point range to beat Kentucky, like the Hoosiers did back in December (9 for 15), this seemed like a fun statistical jaunt to take. And since I like nerding out about these things, I decided to do just that.
[Related: Andy’s Indiana-Kentucky Preview and Prediction]
A few quick notes
- In all, five sets of NCAA Tournament games have been played at the Georgia Dome: the 2002 and 2007 Final Fours, as well as the Regionals in 2001, 2004, and 2006. That provides a total of 15 games worth of data and 20 teams. I recognize that this isn’t much to work with. Unfortunately, I did not have time to dig up all of the shooting numbers from the SEC tournaments that have been played there.
- I am only looking at 3-point shooting percentages here rather than 2-point shooting percentages or overall field goal percentages. Feel free to disagree, but I think the potential effects of a deep shooting background would show up more, or at least be easier to isolate, from 3-point percentages as opposed to overall field goal percentages. If anyone disagrees or wants my reasoning for this, feel free to comment and I’ll explain.
- All data was ascertained from historical game box scores at ESPN.com and SI.com, as well as historical team stats from StatSheet.com. Here is the spreadsheet I used.
I have posted the data below if you’d like to reference it, but here is a summary of what the data shows:
1. Elite 3-point shooting teams turn in elite 3-point shooting performances at the Georgia Dome in the NCAA Tournament.
Out of the 20 teams that have played NCAA Tournament games in the Georgia Dome, four entered with a season 3-point field goal percentage of 40.0% or better. While 40% may seem like an arbitrary cutoff point, know that only eight out of 345 teams shot 40% or better from downtown this season. So only the elite of the elite typically hit that mark.
Of the six games these four sharp-shooting teams ended up participating in, five resulted in the elite 3-point shooting team shooting better than its season average:
- 2002 Indiana (41% season average): 8-13 and 10-23 in two Final Four games
- 2007 Florida (40.9%): 9-22 and 10-18 in two Final Four games
- 2001 Gonzaga (40.4%): 9-22 in one Regional Quarterfinal game
(Note: for those of you not quick with the math skills, 9-22 equates to 40.91%.)
The one team that didn’t surpass its season average, 2002 Kansas (41.7%), only missed it by a smidgen (39.13%) and still made nine threes in the game.
For the record, these elite 3-point shooting teams went 3-3 in their Georgia Dome games.
Why is this important?
Indiana enters Friday night’s game with a season 3-point percentage of 43.7%, which is a better season percentage than any other NCAA Tournament team has ever entered the Georgia Dome possessing. Unless the Hoosiers make fewer than eight 3-pointers or shoot below 39.13% from downtown, IU will have done something rather dubious that no other sharp-shooting NCAA Tournament team playing in the Georgia Dome has done.
Again, it could very well happen; but based on the anecdotal evidence, blaming a poor shooting night from 3-point range on playing an NCAA Tournament game in the Georgia Dome would be silly because it’s never adversely affected really good 3-point shooting teams before.
If you’re an Indiana fan, which is a likelihood if you’re reading this, that should make you feel good…or at least assuage any fears you may have that our silky stroke from downtown will abandon us in the dome and that we are somehow at a strategic disadvantage because of it.
I think we all feel that Indiana will have a good chance to win if the Hoosiers can hit 8-10 3s and shoot at least 40% clip from behind the arc. This small sample size of anecdotal data suggests that we will.
Now we know what the arena-specific history suggests about IU’s chances for a good shooting night from deep on Friday night, but how about for Kentucky?
2. Above average (but not elite) 3-point shooting teams tend to turn in below average 3-point shooting performances at the Georgia Dome in the NCAA Tournament.
The median 3-point percentage in college basketball this year was 34.0%, a number that eight teams actually ended up settling on. I’ll use 2012 as a representative example of history and call any team that entered an NCAA Tournament game at the Georgia Dome with a season 3-point percentage above 34% but below 40% an “above average” 3-point shooting team.
For the record, Kentucky’s season 3-point percentage of 37.5% is 47th this season, so they are in the upper 15% of college basketball teams this year. They aren’t elite like Indiana is, but the Wildcats have still been pretty effective from downtown.
In all, 14 teams have entered an NCAA Tournament game at the Georgia Dome with a season 3-point shooting percentage between 34% and 40%. Scroll down if you want to see each team’s individual performance by game, but the performances can be summarized thusly:
- 16 times out of a possible 20, the above average shooting team shot below its season average.
- 13 out of those 20 times, the above average shooting team shot below 33%.
- 13 out of the 20 times the above average 3-point shooting team made six or fewer 3s in a game.
This anecdotal analysis suggests that above average but not elite shooting teams tend to struggle a bit more than usual from downtown in the Georgia Dome in the NCAA Tournament, and they usually won’t shoot and/or hit an inordinate amount of 3s in a single game. Exceptions to this are 2001 Penn State (13-33), 2006 Texas (10-26), and 2006 West Virginia (15-33).
What does this mean for Indiana?
We know that the Hoosiers tend to struggle defending the 3-point line, and we also know that they may have to play zone at some point during the game, which could lead to open 3s. If the history of above average but not elite 3-point shooting teams in the Georgia Dome holds, Kentucky will more than likely make a 3-pointer about once in every three shots. I think Indiana would happily live with that, all things considered.
This is probably a good time to note that this analysis does not in any way account for the effect the opposing defenses may have had on the 3-point field goal percentages in these Georgia Dome NCAA Tournament games. But since no less an authority than Ken Pomeroy considers offensive 3-point field goal percentage to essentially be a defense-free statistic, I’m okay with that.
So, let’s quickly summarized what we’ve learned so far:
- Indiana fans shouldn’t fear that the Georgia Dome will unduly hinder the Hoosiers’ 3-point shooting.
- Indiana fans also shouldn’t fear, based on the historical probability, that Kentucky will have anything more than just an average shooting night from the behind the arc.
Sure, this doesn’t account for the myriad other variables that will determine who has more points at the end of 40 minutes, but 3-point shooting has been an important variable in many of Indiana’s biggest wins this year. Thus, it’s nice to at least know that nothing about the history of NCAA Tournament games in the Georgia Dome suggests that 3-point shooting will be any less or more of a factor than it would be anywhere else simply because it’s a dome. If anything, the history of the arena tends to favor IU.
But does this really mean anything?
Let’s go one level deeper…
3. Good 3-point shooting has not been especially predictive of success in NCAA Tournament games in the Georgia Dome.
The two worst 3-point shooting teams to play in an NCAA Tournament foursome at the Georgia Dome both won their foursome.
- In 2002, Maryland won the National Championship despite entering the Final Four with a season 3-point percentage of 33.9% and shooting just 30% over the two games.
- In 2006, LSU won the South Regional and went to the Final Four despite having a 32.4% season 3-point percentage and shooing a paltry 20% (5-25) over the two games.
The only time the best 3-point shooting team emerged victorious out of the Georgia Dome was the 2007 Final Four, when Florida won it all, thanks in large part of Lee Humphrey’s sharp shooting.
Could Indiana be the next team to follow in Florida’s footsteps as en elite 3-point shooting that emerges from a Georgia Dome foursome victorious?
But at least we all now know that it won’t be the arena’s fault if the Hoosiers do not.
Here is the data: