For this year’s Marquette team, 3-pointers haven’t been all that memorable.
To be exact, there have been just 132 “memories.” Yes, Junior Cadougan’s buzzer-beater against Connecticut to send Marquette’s Big East opener to overtime is included in that number. So is Vander Blue’s shot-clock-beating 3 against Wisconsin. Jamil Wilson and Blue connected on late 3-pointers against Rutgers to save Marquette’s Big East title hopes, and Todd Mayo’s long-range barrage against South Florida was a thing of beauty. But those have been few and far between.
Of the 68 teams that make up this year’s NCAA Tournament, Marquette owns the worst 3-point percentage. Only No. 12 California has made fewer 3-pointers (125), but the Golden Bears hit at a 30.4 percent clip, slightly better than MU.
In 31 games this season Marquette made 132 3-pointers at a 30.07 percent clip, 330th and 318th of 345 Division I teams, respectively. Six times Marquette made more 3-pointers than its opponents, three times it made as many, and 22 times its opponent made more shots from beyond the arc.
Twenty-three wins, a conference championship and a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament are nothing to scoff at, and the Golden Eagles have made up for their lack of 3-point shooting with trips to the free throw line, efficient two-point scoring and a defense that stacks up against the best in the Big East.
The Golden Eagles’ offensive efficiency was the best in the Big East this year, thanks in large part to shooting 53.1 percent from inside the arc and grabbing a conference-best 38.4 percent of their own misses.
But how do the (lack of) 3-point numbers relate to NCAA Tournament success? When the games truly count, can Marquette succeed without a viable 3-point shooter and a team that, statistically, is the worst in the field?
A realistic expectation for this Marquette team is to reach the Sweet 16 for the third straight season. As a No. 3 seed, the Golden Eagles are favored against No. 14 Davidson and would be favored against No. 6 Butler or No. 11 Bucknell in the East region leading up to a potential berth. Their resume and individual talent means anything less would be considered a failure.
But if recent history is any indication, Marquette will have to overcome steep odds to reach the Sweet 16 because of its 3-point shooting woes. Here’s why:
In the last 10 seasons, no team has made the Sweet 16 shooting worse than the Golden Eagles’ 30 percent clip, and only one out of 160 teams (Syracuse, 2004) made fewer 3-pointers than Marquette’s 132 3-pointers before the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the second weekend of play.
First, a look at each of the worst 3-point shooting teams, by percentage, to make the Sweet 16:
Next, each team to make the fewest number of 3-pointers before the NCAA Tournament and advance to the Sweet 16:
I highlighted the 2003-2004 Syracuse team because it was as close to what Marquette currently is of any team on the two lists. Like Marquette would be, that Orangemen team was the worst 3-point shooting team AND made the fewest amount of 3-pointers of any team to make the Sweet 16 in a specific year. They made fewer total 3-pointers than this Marquette team, but hit at a higher percentage. They did not advance past the Sweet 16.
But maybe team statistics aren’t the best way to go about this. After all, if the NCAA Tournament has taught us anything it’s that one or two players can carry a team. How does Marquette stack up in that regard? Not well.
Again, for Marquette to make the Sweet 16, the Golden Eagles would do so with the fewest number of 3-pointers from their top-2 shooters of any second-weekend team the last 10 years. It’s also interesting to note the 2004 Syracuse team, which had Gerry McNamara’s hot hand to keep them from failing, despite its overall struggles from beyond the arc. The Orange had the fifth-most makes of the 16 worst teams.
One disclaimer with Marquette is Todd Mayo, the team’s third best 3-pointer shooter statistically, missed the first 10 games of the season. But even excluding those games and making Marquette’s 21 games with Mayo into a 31-game average, Marquette’s shot 31.7 percent and averaged 121 makes. Not much better, if at all.
The five-year average for Sweet 16 teams’ 3-point numbers (80 teams) before NCAA Tournament play are 222.0 makes and a 36.5 percent clip. The 10-year average (160 teams) is 217.7 makes at a 36.9 percent clip. Simply put, successful teams hit from beyond the arc as part of their offensive repertoire.
Marquette’s last three Sweet 16 teams’ numbers from beyond the arc? All below the 16-team averages, but still far above the 2012-’13 team’s marks.
— 2011-’12: 182 makes, 33.7 percent
— 2010-’11: 179 makes, 35.2 percent
— 2002-’03: 162 makes, 39.8 percent
As it stands, the three potential teams standing in Marquette’s way to beat history are Davidson and Butler/Bucknell. Here are their 3-point numbers:
— Davidson: 250 3FG; 36.9 percent
— Butler: 225 3FG; 34.8 percent
— Bucknell: 152 3FG; 36.0 percent
3-point shooting is not the only indicator of NCAA Tournament success. Coaching, turnovers, matchups and defense all contribute to wins, so this is far from an end-all, be-all for the Golden Eagles. But at some point a lack of 3-point shooting will be Marquette’s downfall. It’s inevitable.
And if history has anything to say about it, that downfall may come this week.