Defending the 3
BYU’s Jimmer Fredette and Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins rarely get to the three-point line before they are being hounded by a defender.
Leave them alone, they’re likely to take a long shot and score. Pay too much attention, they’re likely to find an open teammate closer to the basket.
A quarter-century of three-pointers in college basketball and deep-shooting threats like Fredette, Jenkins, Ohio State’s Jon Diebler and Ben Hansbrough at Notre Dame have certainly changed how coaches prepare their defenses.
“Our motto is defend the three-point line,” Arizona guard Lamont Jones said.
That is an emphasis for the Pac-10 champions under second-year coach Sean Miller, who led Xavier to four consecutive NCAA tournaments before moving to the desert. The Wildcats are among the nation’s best, allowing opponents to make only 29 percent of their three-pointers.
“You’ve just got to be relentless. Coach, that’s what he preaches and preaches every day,” Jones said. “When we don’t do it, he gets on us and makes us do things that we don’t want to do. ... It works to our advantage and I think that once we saw that, we bought into it .”
While Vanderbilt has one of the nation’s top individual three-pointer shooters in Jenkins (3.1 per game), the Commodores are tenacious defensively beyond the arc.
“When there was no three-point line, you really wanted to defend the basket and you wanted to defend the lane area,” Vandy coach Kevin Stallings said. “The three-point line has changed some philosophies defensively.”
In their opening NCAA tournament game, the No. 5-seeded Commodores will get their long-range defense tested by Richmond, which is 10th nationally making 40 percent of its three-pointers.
Arizona, BYU and Vanderbilt are all in different regionals for this year’s NCAA tournament, the 25th since the three-point shot was instituted by the NCAA. That bracket separation is probably good news for the Wildcats, also a No. 5 seed and opening against Memphis.
Fredette had a career-high nine three-pointers against Arizona in a 49-point game in December 2009. He had another 33 points vs. Arizona this season, though he had only three three-pointers in that game.
Fredette, the nation’s leading scorer with 28.5 points and 3.3s a game, will take shots from well beyond the arc. He will make it from deep left on one possession, then come down and hit a similar shot from the other side.
“I feel like I’ve always been able to shoot those types of shots,” Fredette said. “But this year I’m having more of a green light to shoot them because coach saw that I can make them and my teammates have confidence that I can make them, and (defenses) have to guard me out there.”
BYU opens the NCAA tournament against Wofford, which is sixth nationally making 41 percent of its three-pointers.
With defenders picking up shooters outside the three-point line, more space opens up and can provide the opportunity for more offensive options.
Jenkins has worked to become more than a three-point shooter because of some of the ways opposing teams work to defend him. That may include driving to the basket more often when he sees an open gap.
The sophomore shooter who leads the SEC in scoring (19.5) is picked up by defenders “in weird areas, probably areas that most people don’t get picked up.” And not only when he has the ball.
“They do whole bunch of things. I can’t name them all, but it’s crazy. ... I’ve gotten a box and one, stuff like that. Basically, they try to eliminate any shots I can have,” Jenkins said. “Like, if someone drives, they won’t leave me to give help. They’ll stay on me, basically just shadowing me wherever I go.”
In the event that Vanderbilt and Syracuse match up in the national championship game—the only way they could meet in this tournament—Jenkins is the kind of shooter that the Orangemen would spend a lot of time preparing to defend.
Opponents have taken 743 three-pointers against Syracuse—only three of the other 345 Division I teams have had more long-range shots attempted against them. But the Orangemen with their nasty 2-3 zone have allowed only 31 percent of those to go in because of their preparation.
“We do a great job rotating and identifying the shooters, knowing who is going to get the ball, identifying who’s been hot and who’s been making shots,” Syracuse guard Scoop Jardine said. “We talk about all that stuff in practice and before the game.”
The Orangemen, who play Indiana State in their NCAA opener, spend extra time in practice defending three-pointers because of all the switching they do in their zone.
“The biggest thing is rotation and communication,” Jardine said. “We’re always talking out there, always communicating with each other.”