Is Three the Magic Number? (NAIA Edition)

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Let’s look at how the last ten champions at each level of NAIA basketball utilized the three-pointer.

On the women’s side, similar to the NCAA, there doesn’t seem to be a definitive upward trend in the usage of the three-pointer when you look at it as percentage of points, percentage of overall field goal attempts or even as it pertains to effective field goal percentage, which gives the three-pointer more weight.  Similar to the NCAA, particularly D1 and D3, both divisions of NAIA have seen repeat champions which skews the numbers in a smaller data set like this.

In D1, Oklahoma City has won four of the last ten championships and Union has won twice.  Union put up two of the highest totals in each of the three categories we looked at and they won their two titles in 2009 and 2010 – far ahead of the recent wave of three-pointer usage we’re seeing.  Oklahoma City, not so much.  A case where a style of play that doesn’t rely on the three-pointer has seen amazing success.

In D2, Northwestern (IA) has won three championships, Marian two and Morningside two.  While overall, the trend in the use of three-pointer is up, what brings the overall numbers down is Northwestern’s lack of usage in their three-peat.  Again, a style of play finding success while going against trend.

On the men’s side, the answer is undoubtedly YES.  It’s most prevalent in D1 where there have been no repeated champions in the last ten years.  From 2009-2013, 23.2% of the champions points came from three-pointers while from 2014-2018, that number is 30.8%, about a 33% increase.  The percentage of attempts has gone from 29.4% to 37.4% between the same five-year periods.  The effective field goal percentage has suffered going from 54.4% to 51.7%.  What that means is the dominance of the three-pointer has not necessarily meant teams are operating as efficiently as they can be.

In D2, we have seen some repeated champions with Indiana Wesleyan’s three titles and Morningside’s two championships.  Here the odd man out is the 2009 Oklahoma Wesleyan team that got nearly 40% of its points from three-pointers, if you take that out the subset of 2010-2013 champions compared to the most recent five years shows a marked increase in both categories (points from three-pointers +20% and percentage of attempts +16%).

Look for the three-pointer to continue to dominate at all levels but it would seem to be more favorable to champions on the men’s side rather than on the women’s side