Skip to main content
Menu
Did Moving The 3-Point Line Back Make A Difference In Women’s College Basketball?

When the NCAA decided to move the women’s 3-point line back just over 16 inches last summer to match the men’s distance, many people in the game didn’t think much would change. After all, for some players, navigating the confusion of multiple arcs on the floor since the men’s line moved back to 22 feet, 1.75 inches in 2019 had been more trouble than it was worth.

“It’s not a huge difference,” Valparaiso guard Shay Frederick told me before the season. “I think last year, with having two lines on the court, most of the shots were taken past the men’s 3-point line.”

But was the statistical impact of the move really negligible? To find out, we dug into the data on several aspects of the game to see which numbers were affected by a deeper 3-point line.

Three-point percentage

Let’s just go ahead and get the easiest one out of the way first. Yes, unsurprisingly, the Division I 3-point percentage did drop this season.1 In fact, it dipped below 31 percent for the first time since the two seasons after the women’s game first moved the 3-point line back — from 19 feet, 9 inches to 20 feet, 9 inches — before the 2011-12 season.

There’s a little more to it, of course. For starters, this dip didn’t hit everyone equally.

Which group of players saw the largest decline in 3-point accuracy? One way we can segment players is by taking a look at high-volume shooters and low-volume shooters. As Ken Pomeroy pointed out at The Athletic when the men’s line last moved back, high-volume shooters were likely taking plenty of shots from the deeper distance already. Not only do most high-volume shooters have the ability to knock it down from out there, but defenses also typically try to take away their 3-point opportunities, which forces them farther out to get their looks.

In theory, this should mean that high-volume shooters were less affected by this change. To test this, we looked at two groups (again borrowing from Pomeroy): players who used at least half of their scoring attempts2 on threes and players who used no more than 15 percent of their scoring attempts on shots from behind the arc.3

Here’s how each group fared last season and this season.

Players who take a lot of threes barely budged

Three-point percentages by season for women’s college basketball players who used at least 50 percent of their scoring attempts on threes vs. those who used no more than 15 percent of their attempts on threes

High-volume shooters
Season Threes made Threes attempted 3-Point Pct.
2020-21 15,202 45,536 33.38%
2021-22 20,358 61,709 32.99
Low-volume shooters
Season Threes made Threes attempted 3-Point Pct.
2020-21 1,778 6,977 25.48%
2021-22 2,174 9,484 22.92

Minimum 150 minutes played for both groups. Regular season and postseason. 2021-22 data through games of March 6.

Scoring attempts are total shots and free-throw trips, which are estimated as 0.475 times free-throw attempts.

Because of COVID-19, the 2020-21 season had about three-fourths the number of games of the 2021-22 season.

Source: Her Hoop Stats

The high-volume shooters saw a small decline of less than 0.4 percentage points, while the collective 3-point percentage for low-volume shooters took a hit of more than 2.5 percentage points.

Another group that we might expect to feel a greater impact is freshmen — those who just last season were shooting from the high school arc and had to take a bigger step back this year than their more seasoned teammates.4

The data backs this up as well: The drop in 3-point percentage for freshmen this season was over double that of sophomores, juniors and seniors.

Freshmen dropped off more than upperclassmen

Three-point percentages by season for freshmen vs. all other players in women’s college basketball

Freshmen
Season Threes made Threes attempted 3-Point Pct.
2020-21 7,741 25,708 30.11%
2021-22 8,979 30,976 28.99
All other players
Season Threes made Threes attempted 3-Point Pct.
2020-21 37,289 117,431 31.75%
2021-22 48,252 154,269 31.28

Regular season and postseason. 2021-22 data through games of March 6.

Because of COVID-19, the 2020-21 season had about three-fourths the number of games of the 2021-22 season.

Source: Her Hoop Stats

Shot selection

The other obvious question we need to answer is whether the new distance altered players’ shot distributions at all. We can start with the simplest and most relevant metric: 3-point attempt rate, or threes taken as a share of all field goal attempts.

While we did see a slight decrease in the share of shots taken from three, the trend here was much less drastic than what we saw in 3-point percentage. This year’s 3-point rate was still higher than that of 2019-20, for example, as well as every season prior to 2018.

As the 3-point revolution continues to take over more levels of basketball, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a full recovery in the rate as soon as next season.

Speaking of the 3-point revolution, another potential measure of shot selection worth exploring is the impact on the revolution’s biggest casualty — long 2-point jumpers, or shots from at least 15 feet away from the basket to the 3-point line. We don’t have shot location data going back as far as the 3-point data, but CBB Analytics gives us four years’ worth of information to work with on these shots.

In 2018-19 and 2019-20, the share of long twos held steady at 9 percent. It dropped to 8.5 percent last season before jumping to 9.8 percent so far this season. Despite the continued move away from the midrange across the sport, the extra real estate inside the arc seems to have been enough to increase the share of shots attempted from that area by 1.3 percentage points — or more than 15 percent.

The other type of 2-pointer that the new arc may have influenced is shots at the rim. A deeper 3-point line means longer closeouts and recoveries for defenders. (“Those straight-line drives [to the rim] are happening a little more frequent than I would like right now,” Illinois State head coach Kristen GIllespie noted of her preseason practices in September.)

According to CBB Analytics, field-goal percentage at the rim hasn’t noticeably changed this season — it’s down slightly from 59.5 last season to 58.8 this year. However, the extra space may have changed things for players working off the ball. Using Synergy Sports Technology’s data, we can isolate plays that involve a cut to the basket, and see the differences in points per possession. These possessions, which Nylon Calculus summarizes as essentially straight cuts to the rim, have been more efficient this year than in any season since 2013-14 (the season in which freedom of movement was first emphasized).

The driving lanes for ball handlers may not have opened up enough to move the needle, but it’s possible that pulling perimeter defenders an extra 16.75 inches from the hoop did make it more difficult for them to bump off-ball cutters.

Deadball turnovers

There’s one other stat worth checking on, and it has nothing to do with shots at all.

“Whenever we’re in the corner, we always step out of bounds now,” Loyola of Chicago guard Maya Chandler said last fall.

The added distance in the corner leaves just 40 inches between the 3-point line and the boundary line, a tighter space than players are used to. While we don’t have data on specific types of turnovers, a trend in players stepping out of bounds in the corners may show up in the overall rate of dead ball turnovers.

We can check this by charting the rate (per possession) of turnovers that weren’t steals over the seasons for which we have data.

Over the early part of the 2010s, dead ball turnovers steadily decreased (most likely for a variety of reasons that aren’t relevant to this analysis). After settling in around 11.5 percent for several seasons, the dead ball turnover rate did see a small bump this year. That’s more of a function of last year’s rate being the lowest in the Her Hoop Stats database, however — this year’s rate is right in line with where it was from 2016 to 2020. It’s tough to blame this on more corner out-of-bounds turnovers.


While not every impact is obvious, especially to the naked eye on TV, it’s clear that the arc moving did have a measurable effect on the game. And that was exactly the goal — to open up the floor and create more spacing.

As has been the case before for women’s college basketball and at any level that has moved its arc back, shooters won’t take long to adjust. While they do, expect the game to continue to evolve and produce a better and better product.

CORRECTION (March 10, 2022, 12:21 p.m.): An earlier version of this article misidentified the Michigan State player in the caption of the main image. It is Taiyier Parks, not Nia Clouden.

Footnotes

  1. Data for the 2021-22 season is through games of March 6. Previous seasons include the regular season and postseason.

  2. Shots and free-throw trips, which are estimated as 0.475 times free-throw attempts.

  3. Minimum 150 minutes played for both groups.

  4. We’re including redshirt freshmen in our sample.

Calvin Wetzel is a freelance writer based in Normal, Illinois. His work can be found at Her Hoop Stats and Just Women’s Sports.

Comments