One minute left in regulation. Northwestern down by one. Sterling Williams takes the ball at the top of the key and passes to the right wing. Craig Moore accepts the pass and lines up a 3-pointer.
The Wildcats would hold onto the 62-60 lead against Michigan and win their only Big Ten game of last season.
This season, Moore’s game-winning shot would have to be a foot longer.
Twenty years ago, the NCAA made one of the most significant rule changes in college basketball history by implementing the three-point line. Now, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Committee decided the line needed to be pushed back. The line was pushed back exactly one foot to 20 feet, 9 inches. The committee did not widen the size of the lane, however.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo put it plainly: Anytime there is a rule change, coaches want to do two things – offensively, exploit and take advantage of it and defensively, make sure it doesn’t hurt the team.
The rule change came in an effort to make a three-point shot more difficult and free up open space in the lane, where there was jammed-up, physical play.
“I don’t think a three-point shot that could determine the outcome of a game should be of little risk and great reward,” Izzo said. “I think it should be great risk, great reward.”
In the 2003-04 season, the Big Ten had five players shoot over 40 percent from 3-point range, and the team that had the best against 3-point shots allowed 29.5 percent of long-range shots to fall. Last year, 11 players shot over 40 percent, and the best defense allowed 31.1 percent.
Now, each level of play has its own line.
Women’s basketball will keep the 19-foot-9-inch line, international basketball will play with a line three inches shorter than the men’s college line and the NBA will keep its line at 23 feet, 9 inches.
“It’s almost like we all want our own identity,” Izzo said. “Pretty soon, we’re going to have 63 lines on the court.”
Regardless of the line placement on the Welsh-Ryan Arena floor, the Cats will have to familiarize themselves with the new distance.
Last season, then-junior Craig Moore took 242 3-point shots, third most in the Big Ten, and made 97 of them, second most in the conference. But NU coach Bill Carmody does not think the extra foot will impact his sharpshooter’s 40 percent success rate.
“Craig shoots from way out,” Carmody said. “He doesn’t worry about a foot, but maybe some guys do.”
A season ago, then-freshman Michael Thompson shot 43.3 percent from long distance, and then-sophomore Kevin Coble went 38.9 percent on treys, rounding out the Cats’ plethora of long-range options.
In Thursday’s exhibition game loss to Robert Morris (Ill.) College, NU shot 5-for-22 from beyond the new arc.
Fellow Big Ten coaches and players echoed Carmody’s opinion at Big Ten Media Day that shooters will continue to shoot.
“Shooting percentages will stay the same,” said Purdue forward Robbie Hummel, the conference’s pre-season player of the year. “But you will be able to tell who the real shooters are.”
The added spacing should help NU’s Princeton offense, which relies on constant motion and back-door cuts. As defenders extend out to the 3-point line, a player on the wing can move toward the basket and receive a bounce pass, leading to an easy layup. If teams clog the lane to block passes into the post, players like Moore will have increased space and time to take a 3-point shot.
But the biggest impact may come on defense where the added spacing means more ground to cover. Players will be less inclined to support in the post.
“We’re going to play more zone,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “I think you will see more experimentation with zones and things like that, if I were guessing.”
NU runs a 1-3-1 zone defense, which helps apply pressure on the outside and allows for trapping. With the extended 3-point arc, the Cats may more easily induce turnovers along the sideline.
Teams will have added difficulty covering legitimate forwards and centers with prolific post moves. Gifted post players will have added room to work because the lane width has not been adjusted accordingly. The mid-range jump shot should have more impact, as well, where defenses will have to focus more attention than in years past.
Only time will tell what the real impact the lengthened 3-point line will have on college basketball and NU. But several Cats provided their insights on the topic.
“The muscle memory when you shoot for 10 years at the same 3-point line, you’re not thinking about it. You just shoot,” Moore said. “You’ve trained your body to shoot the same way,” Moore said. “I don’t think it’s going to impact my game too much, I try to (extend my range). I’m not going to be thinking about it at all. I just got in the gym and shot and shot and shot so that it’s natural.”
Moore added that he knows missed shots will fall short or hit the front of the rim this year. And Coble said he thinks the new line should help the team’s unique styles of play offensively and defensively.
“It will help us because people are spread out,” We can cut a little bit better. It’ll keep the middle and the lane open. Defensively, we will make some adjustments and not give teams any open looks.”