Whether it was the Villanova kid swishing a 40-footer just because he could, or the Northern Iowa guard sinking the half-court buzzer-beater when he had to, reminders of Curry, who burst onto the college scene with double-digit Davidson and has now turned the Warriors into NBA champions, have been stamped all over this year’s NCAA Tournament.
“He’s made the improbable probable,” said Reggie Miller, the former UCLA and Pacers star who was never shy about launching from a distance himself.
Villanova and North Carolina will wrap up the college season Monday.
Those looking to draw big-picture conclusions about whether college hoops has been irreversibly Curry-ized might view the matchup like this: It’s the Wildcats, who defied every prediction about bad sightlines in Houston’s stadium and shot 11 for 18 from 3-point land against Oklahoma; and it’s the Tar Heels, who rank 290th in the country in 3-point shooting and could barely draw iron from long range for most of their game against Syracuse.
“When the ball goes in,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said, “it’s definitely more entertaining.”
Earlier in the tournament, Villanova’s Kris Jenkins made one from the edge of the Texas panhandle on the half-court logo. Forward Daniel Ochefu saw it go in, and glanced over at teammate Darryl Reynolds.
“We both got eye contact, like, ‘Wow!’ That was Steph range,'” Ochefu said.
Those sorts of shots flew and fell at an outrageous clip over the last month. There was Paul Jesperson’s half-court buzzer beater for Northern Iowa; the 70-footer by UConn’s Jalen Adams in the American Athletic Conference tournament; anything Buddy Hield did before Oklahoma’s meltdown against ‘Nova.
Bronson Koening summed up his own long-range game-winner for Wisconsin on the first weekend this way: “I just tried to channel my inner Steph Curry.”
But it’s not only this lightning-quick, 6-foot-3 guard’s ability to make outrageous 3s that’s changing things.
“Now, we see all the point guards on the baseline doing what Steph does with the two-ball-dribbling drills and everything else during the warmup,” said Wes Kosel, an assistant coach at Division III Colorado College.
“And it’s not just at the college level, but at the camp level,” Kosel said. “A couple years ago, it was everyone with the Kevin Durant clothes. Now, it’s all the Steph Curry clothes, and you see kids work at losing the ball, then picking it up and shooting it like Curry does.”
But be warned. Curry makes it look easy. It isn’t.
Over the past five years, 3-point percentage has remained basically steady in Division I, rising only 0.3 percentage points to 35.2, according to STATS.
Look at the Tar Heels. They have future NBAers galore. But on Saturday, they went 4 for 17 on 3s and, quite the opposite of some of the shots Curry takes, they were toeing the line and getting open looks. They’ve won all season with solid defense and an offense that gets things done in the middle and is nowhere near dependent on 3-point shots falling.
“I’m sure a lot of people patterned their game after Michael (Jordan) but they didn’t turn into Michael,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of his old teammate. “I hope all the young players we play against the next few years are pulling up from 35 feet off the dribble because we’ll probably be rebounding the ball and going the other way.”
To prevent this, some coaches stay on a Curry-watch of sorts. They’re used to designing intricate offenses and dictating most possessions from the bench. They are wary of abandoning old-school Xs and Os in favor of the 30-foot jump shot.
“You only want guys doing that if they can shoot like him, and there are very few who can shoot like him,” Charles Barkley said.
Meanwhile, the coaches with the guys who can shoot like him are learning to let go.
“We’ve got Kyle Wiltjer,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said of the Zags’ 44-percent 3-point shooter. “If Wiltjer gets an open 3 with 28 seconds on the (shot) clock, or with 20, that’s a good thing, no matter where it’s coming from. We don’t need a ball swing. We’re going to get paid on that possession more times than not.”
All this tilt toward the outside isn’t new. Things have been trending that way since the 1980s, when the 3-pointer was introduced and made this a game that, more and more, is won from the outside. Curry is taking things to the next level — most notably by making the actual 3-point arc more a suggestion than a line in the sand.
“You look at all the people studying these analytics and trying to figure out what the most efficient shot is,” Smart said. “And if you have good shooters, people want to get as many good looks as they can from outside.”
Good for the game? Miller certainly thinks so. Of course he does.
“Young kids are watching this, saying, ‘I don’t have to be 6-8, 6-9, 6-10, I don’t have to be able to jump over the moon to be successful at this game,'” he said. “If I do the little things, if I’m fundamentally sound, if I pass well, if I can shoot, I can be successful.”
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