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When The Three Shot Flees

Duke had considerable success this season despite its poor three point shooting.

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Boston College v Duke
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - FEBRUARY 05: Nik Popovic #21 of the Boston College Eagles and Cam Reddish #2 of the Duke Blue Devils watch as a three-point shot by Reddish drops through the net during the second half of their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 05, 2019 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 80-55.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

We all saw it, knew it. Looking back, given the emphasis increasingly placed on the 3-point shot in both the college and pro games, it was a remarkable weakness to contend with and to overcome. If indeed Duke did overcome it.

Given the fact the Blue Devils made a shade under 30.8 percent of their threes -- easily the worst at the school since the shot was officially introduced in 1987 -- it was all the more remarkable the Devils won 32 games, captured the ACC Tournament title, and reached the Elite Eight during the 2019 season.

This was the first year in which Duke made threes at less than a breakeven rate (.333), hitting about 7.3 long-range shots for every 23.8 attempts. The lousy conversion rate was amplified during the ’19 ACC Tournament, during which the Blue Devils won the title despite making 24.6 percent of their 3-pointers (14-57) over three games.

With that track record, it was a bit of a welcome and unremarked departure when, during four NCAA tournament outings, Duke made 36.5 percent of its threes (31-85), though just 7 of 21 in the loss to Michigan State that ended the season.

For all its inaccuracy Duke was hardly alone in the ACC in misfiring regularly from the bonusphere. As we warned at mid-season, in a striking but overlooked trend weak 3-point shooting was epidemic in the league in 2019.

Only a third of the 15 league teams hit at better than a breakeven rate from beyond the arc. Bad as it was Duke’s percentage was actually exceeded, in an unenviable way, by Georgia Tech (30.72) and Wake Forest (30.78), both of which had losing record in the ACC and overall.

Ranking in that feckless corps of marksmen, a consistent boon to opposing defenses, made the Blue Devils’ achievements in 2019 all the more impressive.

Worst Season-Long 3-Point Accuracy By Duke Since Shot Was
Instituted In 1987 (1983 Experimental Distance Included)
3 Pct. Season 3A-3M 3Att/G %Pts3
.3079 2019 278-903 24.4 26.5
.3486 2009 267-766 20.7 36.6
.3627 2002 301-830 23.7 29.0
.3631 2003 244-672 20.4 24.8
.36518 1994 172-471 13.9 19.6
.36524 1989 145-397 11.0 14.0

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