Photo by Mike Schumann / The Daily Hoosier

IU Basketball: Will the New Three-Point Line Hurt Archie Miller’s Pack-Line Defense?

Indiana’s struggles shooting the ball from behind the three-point line over the last two seasons are well documented.

After hitting just 32.2 and 31.2 percent of their attempts during the last two campaigns, Archie Miller’s Hoosiers came in at No. 307 and 311 nationally (out of 353 teams) during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, respectively.

That’s why when the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved a proposal over the summer to move back the men’s basketball three-point line to the international distance of 22 feet, 1 ¾ inches, many IU fans reacted with concern.

Truth be told, on the offensive end of the floor the new rule might be much ado about nothing for Indiana — or perhaps even something of an equalizer.

That seems to be what happened during last year’s National Invitational Tournament, when most teams shot a lower percentage from long range as the new distance was tested during the postseason event.

Teams in the 2019 NIT made 33 percent of their three-point attempts compared to a 35.2 percent during the regular season.

Moving the line back isn’t going to help Indiana shoot the ball any better, but could it disproportionately harm or discourage the better perimeter shooting teams?  That remains to be seen.

While the impact on the offensive end of the floor isn’t known, one thing that is abundantly clear is the NCAA’s intent when it comes to how it wants to impact defenses.

The committee cited the following rationale for extending the line:

  • Making the lane more available for dribble/drive plays from the perimeter.
  • Slowing the trend of the 3-point shot becoming too prevalent in men’s college basketball by making the shot a bit more challenging, while at the same time keeping the shot an integral part of the game.
  • Assisting in offensive spacing by requiring the defense to cover more of the court.

To fully appreciate the significance of those points as it relates to Indiana, you have to start with an understanding of Miller’s pack-line defense.

First, it is important to understand what the pack-line defense is.  It is a man to man defense, but it is an adaptation from more traditional man-to-man defensive principles.

In a traditional man defense, a defender will typically follow or shadow his man wherever he goes on the floor, and he will actively deny passing lanes between his man and the ball.  In the pack-line, an imaginary line is drawn just inside the three-point line, and the defense doesn’t look to extend beyond it.

Outside of the “pack-line”, passing lanes are not denied and offensive players, other than the player with the ball, are not closely guarded.  It’s a defense that is content to let you pass the ball around the perimeter and shoot contested three-pointers.

New 3-point line
Credit – NCAA

Naturally, if the three-point line is extended, so goes the pack-line.

And if you read the NCAA’s objectives as aimed directly at the pack-line, well, you probably are not entirely wrong.

The pack-line wants to shut off driving lanes, the NCAA wants to open them up.

The pack-line wants to encourage three-point shots, the NCAA wants to discourage them.

The pack-line wants to cover less of the court, the NCAA wants defenses to cover more ground.

Despite the obvious correlation to his defensive scheme, Miller doesn’t seem overly concerned about the rule change.

“I’m not sure,” Miller said at the Big Ten’s media day when asked about the significance of the line being moved back as it relates to his defense.  “We’re going to approach our defense the same.  We’ve always been a team that prides itself on defending the three.

“We’re always going to be the same there.  We’re a team that’s going to teach our defense the same regardless of where the line is.  We haven’t put too much thought into how the line moving back a foot or whatever it is will impact the defense.”

Perhaps more concerning than the location of the line, Miller first went to the quality of shots opposing teams take as his area of focus.

“Part of defending the three is being good on offense and not giving a team a lot of transition opportunities, and being organized and being able to get back and keep the game in the half court,” Miller said.

Now in his third season at Indiana, Miller wants his defense to get back, and then continue to focus on keeping the ball out of the paint while forcing teams late into the shot clock once in the half court.

“When you’re a team that can really protect the paint and make things really hard on the inside, hopefully you take challenged shots,” Miller continued. “If you work later in the clock, typically that shot is a little harder.”

Of course protecting the paint will naturally be at least incrementally more challenging with more ground to cover out the three point line.

Last season, Wofford shot 41.4 percent from three, the second-best mark in Division I.  Their head coach Jay McAuley told Daniel Wilco a few weeks ago that his team has a plan for attacking the new space the rule change provides.

“We’re going to have to have some more plays that attack long closeouts,” McAuley said. “With our ability to shoot the basketball the way we do, people are going to have to come out and guard us a little further out. So, I would be silly if I didn’t have some of those tweaks planned moving into this year.”

Moving the line back will have an impact, there is no way around that.  The question really centers on the order of magnitude.

Put Miller in the camp of believing that impact will be negligible.

“We’ll see,” Miller said.  “I know they moved the line back a few years ago and it’s kind of like it was never moved back.”

While we won’t know the precise impact until we are well into this season and beyond, Miller is confident that players are going to continue putting up three-point shots as the game continues to become more perimeter oriented.

For Indiana, that fact, if indeed the percentages go down, may offset any adverse impact from more open driving lanes.

“I think kids are growing up nowadays, last five, six, seven years, the three-point shot is like a layup,” Miller said with a grin.  “They start shooting that before they do anything else.”

It is well documented that three-point attempts have been on the rise in the NBA for years — and the college game generally follows suit.

The three point-line, wherever it resides, is clearly here to stay as a critical part of the game.

Whether Miller’s team, and the opposition, start making more or less shots from long range remains to be seen.

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