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October 23, 2008

Big East could feel impact of new 3-point line

NEW YORK Perhaps no conference should be more wary of the new 3-point line than the Big East.

While the league has an extraordinary amount of talent and depth eight Big East teams are in the Rivals.com preseason top 25 the teams who project at or near the top also have a glaring hole: the lack of good outside shooters. That could be what keeps the nation's top league from producing the national champion.

Each of the past 10 teams that have won the NCAA title have had at least one player average 2.0 3-pointers per game. Florida had two (Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey) during its title runs in 2005-06 and 2006-07.

But Connecticut, Louisville and Pittsburgh picked first, second and third, respectively, in the Big East's preseason poll didn't have one player who made 2.0 3-pointers a game last season. That was with the line at 19 feet, 9 inches; it's at 20-9 this season.

Connecticut ranked last in the league in 3-pointers made (168) and attempted (465) last season. Pitt lost its top two 3-point shooters guards Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin combined for 118 of the Panthers' 225 3-pointers. And Louisville was second in the league in 3-pointers made (272) but shot 35.0 percent from beyond the arc, which ranked eighth.

None of those numbers seem to bother the coaches.

"(Outside shooting) is an area we need to improve on," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "I think (point guard) Levance Fields will shoot the ball better (he shot 27.7 percent from 3-point range last season). But this league is ultimately about rebounding and defense. It's always been that way and that's what ultimately wins."

Georgetown, which won the 2007-08 regular-season title, ranked first in scoring defense and field-goal percentage defense. But the Hoyas were remarkably balanced, also ranking first in field-goal percentage and second in 3-point field-goal percentage. Departed senior Jonathan Wallace made 2.1 3-pointers per game and led the league by hitting 44.7 of his attempts (71-for-159).

Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun acknowledged that his guards need to get more open looks from 3-point range, but said his Huskies will be built around A.J. Price's ability to attack the basket and the inside play of 7-3 center Hasheem Thabeet and bruising power forward Jeff Adrien. Calhoun is expecting an All-American season from Thabeet, the league's reigning defensive player of the year. Adrien is coming off a season in which he ranked 14th in the league in scoring (14.8 ppg) and third in rebounding (9.2 rpg).

"I don't even know why they are doing it," said Adrien when asked about moving the 3-point line. "It's just a waste of money. I don't think it will change anything. I just don't want to see six different lines on the court. (the women's line remains 19-9, and teams sometimes play on courts with the NBA 3-point line)."

Louisville senior swingman Terrence Williams agrees with Dixon.

"You still have to win games the same way," said Williams, who recently had knee surgery and is expected to return in late November. "Three points is good. But two is good, too."

Of the league's preseason top three, the Cardinals have the best chance of having someone average 2.0 3-pointers per game. Junior guard Jerry Smith hit 1.87 3-pointers a game and shot 38.4 percent (68-for-177) last season.

Cards coach Rick Pitino, who has been to five Final Fours with three programs, knows how valuable having a shooter of Smith's caliber can be.

"The old saying of good shooting kills a multitude of sins is true," Pitino said. "I've had very good teams not make the Final Four. I've also had two teams that weren't as talented go to the Final Four Providence (1986-87) and Louisville (2004-05) because they could shoot and pass the ball."

That may be what gives Notre Dame, which was picked fourth and received a first-place vote, an edge over its Big East peers when it comes to contending for the national title.

The Irish shot a league-high 40.5 percent (274-of-677) on 3-point attempts, thanks largely to senior guard Kyle McAlarney, who ranked second behind Wallace at 44.1 percent (108-of-245). Many of those 3-pointers came from well behind the new 20-9 mark.

"I have not seen a better shooter," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said.

Senior guard Ryan Ayers gives the Irish another solid 3-point threat. Ayers doesn't shoot as much as McAlarney, but he was slightly more accurate last season, hitting 45.1 percent (55-for-122).

"I don't think people realize how good a shooter Ryan is," said Notre Dame big man Luke Harangody, who led the Big East in scoring (20.4 ppg) and was second in rebounding (10.6 rpg) while capturing league player of the year honors. "He can really help us."

The new 3-point line should also give Syracuse, picked eighth, an edge. The Orange will have two good outside shooters back from injury. Junior guard Eric Devendorf was shooting 40.7 percent from 3-point range before tearing an ACL in the 10th game last season. Junior guard Andy Rautins didn't play at all last season because of an ACL tear, but shot 40.6 percent from 3-point range in Big East play in 2006-07.

"Having shooters like that is going to open up space on floor," said Syracuse point guard Jonny Flynn, who split the league's rookie of the year award with Pitt's DeJuan Blair last season. "It's going to make a big difference. Those guys can stretch the defense. It's a great advantage."

It's an advantage that could play a pivotal role in the Big East and national title races.

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.

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