Predicting the Best 3-Point Shooting Teams in NCAA Basketball for 2015-16 Season

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistSeptember 14, 2015

Predicting the Best 3-Point Shooting Teams in NCAA Basketball for 2015-16 Season

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    Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

    The three-point shot can be the great equalizer in college basketball, allowing smaller and less-talented teams to make up from outside what they're unable to accomplish down low. The ability as a team to shoot well from the perimeter has made it possible for many of the game's greatest upsets—particularly in the NCAA tournament—to happen.

    It doesn't guarantee success, however. Last season there were 10 schools in Division I that made 40 percent or more of their three-point attempts, and while seven of them had winning records, only four made it into the NCAA tourney.

    Not being able to consistently score from beyond the arc does make it difficult to win, though, as none of the 22 schools that failed to make at least 30 percent of their threes earned a bid to March Madness, and only five finished with .500 records.

    Taking into account what teams have coming back and what they are set to add for 2015-16, we've predicted and ranked the 20 teams that should be the most successful from three-point range for this coming season. Think we missed someone? Let us know in the comments section.

20. William & Mary Tribe

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    2014-15 3-point Shooting Percentage: 39.8 (12th)

    Percentage of Made 3-pointers Returning: 73.8 (290 of 393)

    William & Mary is one of five schools that have been playing at the Division I level since its inception yet has never made the NCAA tournament. The Tribe came oh so close last season, falling to Northeastern in the Colonial Athletic Association tourney final, and the graduation of star Marcus Thornton makes being able to get there in 2015-16 quite difficult.

    It's also going to have a major impact on William & Mary's outside shooting, since Thornton's 102 made three-pointers were tied for 13th-most in the country last year. Thankfully, the team returns four other players that were all proficient from outside.

    Daniel Dixon, a 6'5" junior, hit 73 deep shots and made 45.1 percent of his attempts, while junior guard Greg Malinowski shot 46.8 percent from outside.

19. Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks

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    2014-15 3-point Shooting Percentage: 39.4 (15th)

    Percentage of Made 3-pointers Returning: 48.5 (130 of 268)

    Tennessee-Martin heads into it 24th season at the Division I level still looking for its first trip to the NCAA tournament, and it's coming off its best performance during that time. The Skyhawks won 21 games under first-year coach Heath Schroyer, reaching the semifinals of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament by using a balanced scoring attack that had five players averaged between 11.1 and 13.8 points per game.

    And four of those scorers were strong from outside, hitting 32.1 percent or better from three-point range. Half of that quartet has graduated, but the best of the lot is back, and he brings with him the top three-point percentage of any returning player in the country.

    Alex Anderson shot 48 percent last season, tied for second in the nation, making 94 threes. That included a 7-for-10 performance during the CIT opening-round win at Northwestern State. Anderson was 19 of 33 from long range in the four CIT games

18. Gonzaga Bulldogs

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    2014-15 3-point Shooting Percentage: 40.0 (8th)

    Percentage of Made 3-pointers Returning: 42.4 (112 of 264)

    Gonzaga will be young in the backcourt this season with Kevin Pangos graduating from the point guard spot which he held in Spokane for what felt like a decade, while 2-guard Gary Bell has also moved on. That pair had 136 three-pointers last season, compared to the 24 that potential replacements Eric McClellan, Silas Melson and Josh Perkins hit in limited action.

    Perkins was shelved for all but five games in 2014-15 after suffering a broken jaw during the NIT Season Tip-Off, while Melson struggled to get minutes behind Pangos and Bell and McClellan was only eligible for the second half of the year after transferring from Vanderbilt.

    If even one person from that trio is able to step up and contribute, and do so with perimeter scoring, it will ensure that multifaceted scorer Kyle Wiltjer won't have to stay outside and can continue his development as an all-around performer that we saw last year. That included hitting a whopping 46.6 percent of his three-point attempts.

17. Connecticut Huskies

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    2014-15 3-point Shooting Percentage: 35.5 (124th)

    Percentage of Made 3-pointers Returning: 61.9 (140 of 226)

    Last season was a forgettable one for Connecticut, which had the infamy of going from defending NCAA champion to a first-round loser in the consolation NIT. Making matters worse, the Huskies' best player from that underachieving team, guard Ryan Boatright, has graduated.

    Boatright's 86 made three-pointers were far and away the most by any member of the 2014-15 Huskies, but returners Omar Calhoun, Daniel Hamilton and Rodney Purvis combined for 126 triples and each shot better than 34 percent from outside. And reinforcements are on the way from the high school ranks and the transfer market.

    Jalen Adams is a 5-star point guard who could slide right into Boatright's slot as a tiny-but-dynamic scorer that UConn always seems to have, and he'll be doing so alongside Seton Hall transfer Sterling Gibbs. Last year, Gibbs had 75 threes and shot 43.6 percent from outside, ninth-best in Division I.

    Cornell transfer Shonn Miller, a 6'7" forward who led his team in scoring and rebounding last season, could also provide some pop when he steps outside the line to shoot.

16. NJIT Highlanders

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    2014-15 3-point Shooting Percentage: 37.6 (55th)

    Percentage of Made 3-pointers Returning: 100.0 (279 of 279)

    Nomadic NJIT is an independent no longer, invited to join the Atlantic Sun Conference for 2015-16 after spending last season traveling all over to play whoever it could (and pulling off a massive upset of Michigan along the way). The league affiliation is all that will be different with the Highlanders, as they return nine players from last year and add a transfer whose fondness for the three-point shot will fit right in.

    NJIT attempted at least 21 threes in 23 of its 33 games last year, and made at least 10 in one-third of those contests. The main bomber was 5'10" guard Damon Lynn, who ranked first in the nation in attempts with 350 and was second with 126 makes. His 36 percent efficiency was only fifth-best on the team, though, as four players with at least 25 makes shot better than 40 percent.

    And the Highlanders also add Hofstra transfer Chris Jenkins, who made 42 threes for the Pride in 2013-14.

15. BYU Cougars

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    2014-15 3-point Shooting Percentage: 39.3 (16th)

    Percentage of Made 3-pointers Returning: 42.0 (126 of 300)

    Because of its connection to the Mormon church, and thus affected by Latter-day Saints missionary work, BYU's roster regularly goes through major turnover each season. Yet that doesn't tend to affect the Cougars' ability to score—they've averaged at least 77 points per game each of the past seven seasons—or hit three-pointers, and it shouldn't for 2015-16 despite the departure of three of its four most prolific perimeter shooters.

    Tyler Haws, Skyler Halford and Anson Winder combined to make more than half of BYU's threes last year, and Halford made 48.1 percent of his attempts. But 6'3" senior guard Chase Fischer made 103 all by himself, and his 41.5 percent rate isn't anything to complain about.

    BYU adds several players who figure to contribute to its perimeter presence, most notably freshman Nick Emery. Rated as the No. 64 overall player and the 12th-best point guard in the 2013 recruiting class, the 6'1" Emery spent the past two years on his mission and figures to step into Haws' guard spot in the starting lineup. 

    In 2013, 247Sports' Jerry Meyer ranked Emery as the third-best shooter in his class, noting that "there is nothing Emery likes more than pulling up for a deep jumper once he gets inside 30 feet. He will conjure up memories of Jimmer Fredette once he puts on a BYU uniform."

14. Central Michigan Chippewas

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    2014-15 3-point Shooting Percentage: 37.3 (63rd)

    Percentage of Made 3-pointers Returning: 96.0 (309 of 322)

    Central Michigan won 23 games last season and were the Mid-American Conference East Division champs, but fell to Buffalo in the MAC tournament title game, robbing the Chippewas of their first NCAA tourney appearance since 2003. They'll be among the favorites in the MAC in 2015-16 thanks to the return of their top seven scorers, including a trio of sharpshooters from outside.

    Topping that list is John Simons, a 6'8" senior who hit 45.5 percent of his three-point attempts last season to rank fourth in Division I among eligible players. Of his 121 field goals, 91 were from beyond the arc.

    Also returning are sophomore guard Josh Kozinski (37.4 percent rate, 74 threes) and 5'9" junior guard Braylon Rayson (35.4 percent, 56 threes).

13. Boise State Broncos

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    2014-15 3-point Shooting Percentage: 39.2 (18th)

    Percentage of Made 3-pointers Returning: 64.6 (192 of 297)

    Boise State somehow overcame the loss of star Anthony Drmic after just seven games last season to win 25 games and reach the NCAA tourney, only to be dealt the rough draw of facing Dayton on its home court in a First Four matchup. The Broncos lost that game by one point, and had they been better from three-point range (6-of-20) it likely would have been a far better story.

    Leading scorer Derrick Marks has graduated, and he was Boise's best outside shooter at 43.6 percent, but the team gets Drmic for a fifth season after the 6'6" swingman was given a medical hardship waiver because of ankle surgery. Drmic, a 35.3 percent career shooter from outside, has made 198 threes in his first three seasons.

    Boise also returns its most frequent outside shooter, 6'8" junior forward Nick Duncan, who drained 76 threes at a 38.4 percent clip, while Boston College transfer Lonnie Jackson made 175 threes in his first three seasons before missing almost all of 2014-15 with a leg injury.

12. Duquesne Dukes

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    2014-15 3-point Shooting Percentage: 37.0 (71st)

    Percentage of Made 3-Pointers Returning: 88.6 (217 of 245)

    It was a rough 2014-15 season for Duquesne, which went 12-19 and finished near the bottom of the Atlantic 10. Most of the problems were more related to defensive breakdowns than how the Dukes performed with the ball in their hands, though woeful free-throw shooting (62.7 percent) impacted several of their eight single-digit losses.

    Whether Duquesne coach Jim Ferry can fix those issues enough to earn the program its first NCAA tourney bid since 1977 remains to be seen, but at least he doesn't have to worry about getting accuracy from his three-point shooters.

    Micah Mason ranked seventh in Division I at 44.7 percent last season, and that was actually a severe dip from the 6'2" senior's make rate over the previous two years. As a freshman at Drake in 2012-13 he hit 50.6 percent from outside as a reserve, and then in 2013-14 he drained 56 percent of his 116 tries.

    Mason hit 88 threes last year, while fellow guard Derrick Colter shot 42.6 percent during his junior year.

11. Iona Gaels

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    2014-15 3-point Shooting Percentage: 39.7 (13th)

    Percentage of Made 3-pointers Returning: 92.2 (317 of 344)

    Iona's two-headed scoring attack needs a new member after big man David Laury graduated, leaving A.J. English on his own for the time being. This shouldn't have much effect on the Gaels' propensity for making (tied for first in Division I) and taking (869 attempts, fourth-most in the country) threes, since Laury's 27 triples were a distant fourth on the team.

    English was by far the most prolific, with 106 threes, and he hit them at a strong 38.7 percent rate. Schadrac Casimir made 94 threes and hit them at a 42.3 percent clip, while Isaiah Williams' 69 threes and 44.2 percent efficiency in his junior season were also key.

    Iona has averaged 305.4 made three-pointers per season in coach Tim Cluess' five years running the program.

10. Northwestern State Demons

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    2014-15 3-point Shooting Percentage: 35.7 (115th)

    Percentage of Made 3-pointers Returning: 81.8 (216 of 264)

    The top-scoring team in the country a year ago, Northwestern State will take the points however they come. Of their 84 points per game, less than 25 came via the three-pointer, as the Demons also loved to drive to the basket for quick scores or get points from the line after drawing contact.

    But when it opted to shoot from outside, the quick nature of Northwestern State's attack—it ranked second in Division I at 75.1 possessions per 40 minutes, per Sports-Reference.com—made the three-pointers that much deadlier.

    And most of that long-distance scoring is back, most notably from dynamic guard Jalan West. The 5'10" guard averaged 20 points and 7.7 assists per game while hitting 86 threes at a 42.2 percent rate, and he's one of four Demons with at least 30 makes from beyond the arc last season. 

9. Belmont Bruins

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    2014-15 3-point Shooting Percentage: 38.0 (46th)

    Percentage of Made 3-pointers Returning: 83.9 (276 of 329)

    Belmont's ability to hit the deep shot is what has helped it make four trips to the NCAA tournament in the past five years, and it robbed the casual fan of getting to see what Murray State star Cameron Payne could do on the big stage. The Bruins dropped 15 threes on the Racers to win the Ohio Valley Conference tourney title last year, and that was the sixth time all season they drained at least that many from outside.

    The Bruins' 329 made threes in 2014-15 were fifth-most in Division I, and their three most efficient and prolific outside scorers all return.

    Craig Bradshaw, a 6'3" senior, ranked 18th in the country at 42.3 percent from outside with 82 threes, including five in Belmont's second-round NCAA tourney loss to Virginia. Taylor Barnette, another 6'3" guard, hit 84 treys at a 39.1 percent clip, and 6'8" senior forward Nick Smith made 58 threes off the bench.

8. Utah State Aggies

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    2014-15 3-point Shooting Percentage: 39.4 (14th)

    Percentage of Made 3-pointers Returning: 90.6 (211 of 233)

    Utah State will be under the guidance of a new coach for the first time since 1998, as Stew Morrill retired and the school turned the program over to longtime assistant Tim Duryea. Don't expect much to change when it comes to how the Aggies go about scoring, though, especially with the pieces Duryea has coming back for 2015-16.

    Four players made at least 36 three-pointers and shot 34.3 percent or better from outside, and they are all set to return from last year's 18-13 squad. The deadliest of the bunch is Chris Smith, a 6'4" senior guard who made 47.4 percent of his long-range shots last year and was lights out down the stretch by making 16 of 28 attempts in the Aggies' final five games.

7. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    2014-15 3-point Shooting Percentage: 39.0 (24th)

    Percentage of Made 3-pointers Returning: 52.6 (159 of 302)

    Notre Dame's four-guard attack carried it within a last-second shot of making the Final Four, and the Fighting Irish showed they could score from anywhere by ranking second nationally in field-goal shooting at 50.9 percent. They were most deadly from outside, though, with five different players showing the ability to drain the long ball when needed.

    The graduation of leading scorer and assist man Jerian Grant will be felt in 2015-16, but his departure will impact the three-point threat the least. Grant's 50 makes were only fourth on the team, and his 31.6 percent accuracy was a distant fifth, compared to the 93 makes and 42.3 rate of fellow graduate Pat Connaughton.

    Three of the four players who shot better than 40 percent from outside return: Demetrius Jackson shot 42.9 percent, V.J. Beachem shot 41.6 percent and Steve Vasturia shot 41.1 percent.

6. Utah Utes

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    2014-15 3-point Shooting Percentage: 40.4 (7th)

    Percentage of Made 3-pointers Returning: 89.4 (236 of 264)

    Gone is Delon Wright, Utah's electric do-everything guard who led the Utes in scoring and assists and was their second-best rebounder and field-goal shooter. However, the thing Wright did least-well was hit from the perimeter, as he made only 26 three-pointers and 35.6 percent of his attempts.

    Utah has two options to replace Wright at the point, either sophomore Isaiah Wright or junior college transfer Lorenzo Bonam, either of which will bump up the team's already strong outside shooting rate thanks to the return of seniors Jordan Loveridge and Brandon Taylor and sophomore Brekkott Chapman.

    That returning trio combined for 155 makes, and each member shot at least 43.5 percent from beyond the arc.

    Wright shot 39.4 percent from outside in limited action last season, and Bonam comes to the Utes with rave reviews from those who worked with him at the JUCO level.

    "His ability to have a feel for the game, I've never seen a player have that high of a basketball IQ," his coach at Gillette College, Shawn Neary, told Kyle Goon of the Salt Lake Tribune.

5. Michigan State Spartans

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    2014-15 3-point Shooting Percentage: 38.5 (32nd)

    Percentage of Made 3-pointers Returning: 69.0 (203 of 294)

    The traditional Tom Izzo-coached team is the kind known for a gritty, blue-collar approach to the game that's as much about toughness and defense as it is about anything flashy on offense. And then there's the group Michigan State had last season, which had three players combine to make 262 three-pointers en route to a surprise appearance in the Final Four.

    Two-thirds of that long-distance attack are back, with senior Denzel Valentine and his team-leading 102 triples and senior Bryn Forbes' 42.4 percent outside accuracy hoping to make the departure of Travis Trice (who made 90 threes) easy to deal with. A transfer who sat out last season will help with that as well.

    Eron Harris shot 42.2 percent from outside and made 89 threes as a freshman for West Virginia in 2013-14, and he'll replace Trice's production while guard Lourawls Nairn Jr. takes on the ball-handling responsibilities.

4. Davidson Wildcats

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    2014-15 3-point Shooting Percentage: 39.1 (21st)

    Percentage of Made 3-pointers Returning: 73.2 (251 of 343)

    The surprise winner of Atlantic 10 Conference regular-season title, Davidson came out of nowhere in 2014-15 behind a perimeter-driven attack that drained 343 three-pointers, third-most in the country. It didn't end well for the Wildcats, with 20- and 31-point losses in the final two games, but despite losing top scorer Tyler Kalinoski, there's plenty to build off for this year.

    Particularly when it comes to outside shooting.

    Kalinoski had 91 threes, tops on the team, but four other players had at least 41 makes, including 83 from 5'11" senior guard Brian Sullivan. Another guard, 5'11" junior Jack Gibbs, hit from outside at a 42.5 percent clip despite missing seven games with a knee injury.

    "The perimeter assault from Gibbs, Sullivan, (Peyton) Aldridge and (Oskar) Michelsen is pretty phenomenal," Bleacher Report's Kerry Miller wrote. "There's a strong argument to be made that, in terms of volume and percentage, this was the country's best long-range team."

3. Vanderbilt Commodores

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    2014-15 3-point Shooting Percentage: 39.2 (19th)

    Percentage of Made 3-pointers Returning: 96.5 (246 of 255)

    The influx of big-name coaches to the SEC has made down-on-their luck programs like Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State suddenly relevant again, and the hope is that this league won't just be Kentucky and everyone else again in 2015-16 . Don't forget about Vanderbilt, though, a team that looked a year away last winter but brings back almost its entire corps of contributors.

    And of the three players who moved on from 2014-15's squad, they contributed just nine three-pointers, so look for the Commodores to be firing from deep quite a bit this season.

    Matthew Fisher-Davis only started 11 games as a freshman, but the 6'5" guard still managed to lead the team with 71 threes and a 40.1 make rate that was second on the team to Wade Baldwin (43.9). Riley LaChance had 66 makes at a 38.2 percent clip, and Luke Kornet hit 50 triples at a 40 percent rate.

2. Villanova Wildcats

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    2014-15 3-point Shooting Percentage: 38.9 (25th)

    Percentage of Made 3-pointers Returning: 58.0 (189 of 326)

    For what Villanova's teams have lacked in terms of inside presence over the last few years, the Wildcats have more than made up for with a lights-out perimeter attack. Last year they sported six players with at least 32 made three-pointers, and four who dropped in at least 52 from deep.

    So while losing top scorer (and, with 79 makes, the most prolific outside shooter) Darrun Hilliard to graduation and No. 2 three-point shooter Dylan Ennis to Oregon, there's still plenty left in the long-distance tank for Villanova's pursuit of a third straight Big East regular-season title.

    Josh Hart is a star in the making, coming off a sophomore year in which he shot 46.4 percent from three-point range, and is primed to be Villanova's go-to scorer. The team also has a crafty veteran guard in senior Ryan Arcidiacono, who had 55 made threes last year and 185 for his career, while youngsters Phil Booth and Kris Jenkins made 80 threes off the bench and will take on greater roles in 2015-16.

    Throw in 5-star point guard Jalen Brunson, one of the most explosive scorers in his class, and the Wildcats will again be a dangerous team from distance.

1. Indiana Hoosiers

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    2014-15 3-point Shooting Percentage: 40.6 (6th)

    Percentage of Made 3-pointers Returning: 96.9 (309 of 319)

    If this is the year that Indiana coach Tom Crean gets things where he (and his sizable fanbase) wants the program to be, look for it to happen via an onslaught of capable three-point shooters.

    The Hoosiers bring back all but 10 of the 319 threes they made a year ago, and those came from a reserve forward (Max Hoetzel) who transferred to San Diego State. Indiana's other offseason departures, such as dismissed players Emmitt Holt and Hanner Mosquera-Perea, didn't contribute to the outside scoring.

    Yogi Ferrell hit 41.6 percent of his threes and drained 82 last year as a junior, giving him 193 for his career. James Blackmon had 77 as a freshman, and Indiana also got solid perimeter contributions from guards Nick Zeisloft (45 percent, 63 makes) and Robert Johnson (52 makes).

    All statistics from Sports-Reference.com. All recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.