AMES, Iowa (AP) — The mid-range jumper used to be a staple of college basketball playbooks. Now, the shot isn’t as essential as it used to be — it seems to be fading away.
Many college teams, including Iowa State, Indiana and Notre Dame, are increasingly passing up mid-range jumpers, looking for space and uncontested shots — which these days are found are closer to the rim or beyond the 3-point line.
The Hoosiers and Fighting Irish are among 27 Division I teams that have taken 2-point jumpers –defined by shot tracking site Hoop-math.com as anything other than a layup, tip-in, dunk or 3-pointer — on less than 20 percent of their attempts.
That’s up from just five teams in 2011-12.
“I didn’t know there was a problem with it until I got here,” Iowa State point guard Monte Morris said of the mid-range jumper. “Coach (Fred Hoiberg) doesn’t really like them. He’d rather like layups or 3-pointers.”
The reasoning behind that line of thinking is quite simple.
It’s been an unwritten rule that if a player is going to shoot a long 2, he might as well step back and take a 3-pointer. And of course if the player is going for two points, he should take the easiest shot, which means getting as close to the basket as possible.
But the philosophy is becoming more prevalent and as a result, the mid-range jumper is becoming a lost art — actually vanishing from college playbooks with the 3-point line 20.75 feet from the basket.
The average number of 3s taken per game this season, 18.5, is the most since 2008. But the national average of 48.2 percent shooting on 2s is in line with the previous decade, according to STATS LLC.
And teams like Wisconsin and Duke excel from inside the arc because they have highly skilled big men such as Frank Kaminsky and Jahlil Okafor — and standout 3-point shooters that keep defenses honest.
“This year we have a guy who scores inside (in Okafor). We’re going to get it inside. We have guys who can shoot the 3. We want to do that. And we have guys who can score in between,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose Blue Devils are fourth nationally in field goal percentage. “You try to come up with a menu that fits the group that you have.”
Even teams that don’t take a ton of mid-range shots have different reasons for doing so.
The dearth of mid-range jumpers taken by the Fighting Irish is more about evolution than philosophy, according to coach Mike Brey.
Star point guard Jerian Grant demands so much attention that he allows Notre Dame to roll other players off for layups and dunks while also spreading the floor for its shooters. The Irish are hitting 40 percent of their 3s this season, 13th-best in the country.
At Indiana, it’s all about spacing.
Hoosiers coach Tom Crean said his team’s main focus on offense is to attack the rim and force the defense to collapse in the paint. That frees up the 3-point shooters who are Indiana’s strong suit this season.
The Fighting Irish rank second among high-major teams with 8.8 made 3s per game.
Indiana is first among Power 5 teams at 9.3 3-pointers per game.
“The bottom line is getting clean, separated-space shots. Not shots that you have to manufacture, shots that you have to challenge. And a lot of times when you’re sitting there in that 10-, 12-, 14-, 15-foot range, those shots are going to be challenged,” Crean said.
In the eyes of Xavier coach Chris Mack, forcing other teams to shoot challenged mid-range jumpers can be just as important as avoiding them yourself.
Advanced data appears to back up Mack.
Hoop-math said as of Tuesday, 218 Division I teams were shooting at least 33.3 percent from 3-point range.
Those teams would need to shoot at least 50 percent on 2-pointers to earn the same amount of points — but none of them are.
Gonzaga leads the nation at 47.1 percent on 2-point shots.
“To me, tough 2s lose you basketball games,” Mack said. “I think the complete player can get to the basket, can hit an open jump shot from 3, and can put it on the floor and pull up. But I think too much is made of that being a lost art.
“Guys have to learn how to shoot and be able to finish in traffic in today’s game. And that (pull-up jumper) to me is the last thing making a guy a complete basketball player.”
It’s taken some getting used to even for Cyclones like Morris, who is in the camp that the mid-range jumper is “a lost art.”
But it’s certainly working for Iowa State.
The Cyclones — who installed an NBA 3-point line at their practice facility in part to help avoid stepping on the shorter college one during games — are hitting 56 percent of their 2-point shots, the majority of them from close range, and they’ve made 205 3-pointers.
“It’s repetition. It’s getting your guys on the right spots on the floor,” Hoiberg said. “You want to try to avoid those shots.”
AP Sports Writers Joe Kay in Cincinnati and Joedy McCreary in Durham, North Carolina, contributed to this report.
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