Cashing in on fool’s gold: how Kansas has embraced the three

The three-point shot is not something new to the game of basketball. However, the way it is being utilized and relied upon by top teams at all levels illustrates its importance to the modern game. This year’s Kansas team shoots and makes three’s at a prolific clip. Let’s analyze how Kansas’ ability to shoot from behind the arc has put them in position to make a serious run at the 2016 National Championship.

Bill Self infamously referred to the three-point shot as “fool’s gold,” saying in 2015, “(Making threes is) fools’ gold. You can’t bank on making 55 percent or 50 percent of your threes.”

Self’s offensive blueprint has long been predicated on superior post scorers succeeding largely out of high-low sets. This year’s Kansas team lacks a dominant big man on the offensive end of the floor, so Self’s team has found an increased reliance on scoring from the perimeter – something the Jayhawks are doing at an outstanding rate.

The 2016 Jayhawks are shooting 42.2% from behind the arc, which is the third-best three-point percentage in the country. Not only is this Kansas team one of the best in the nation, it is also the best three point shooting team Bill Self has ever had. Only one other time in Self’s 13 years at the helm has he had a team shoot over 40% from three. That came in 2010, when Markieff Morris, Tyrel Reed and Xavier Henry all shot over 40% from deep individually, highlighting a Kansas team that finished seventh in the nation at 40.4%.

To compare, this year’s team features four starters in Devonte’ Graham, Frank Mason, Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis who are shooting 40% or better from three. Off the bench comes an even more prolific three-point shooter in Brannen Greene, who has hit exactly 50% of his threes this season. Those five, combined with the increasingly efficient Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, must all be accounted for when playing on the perimeter. Defenses are required to play these shooters tighter, allowing for more open penetration lanes and less time for a defender to react and help. Having two point guards on the floor at most times also aides this process immensely, as they utilize their ability to find open shooters and deliver passes on time and on target.

Kansas isn’t the only highly ranked team that has relied upon and benefited from the three-point shot this year. The two teams ahead of Kansas in three-point shooting percentage are Michigan State (43.4%) and Oklahoma (42.6%), both two-seeds in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Also in the top 10 are top-seeded Virginia (40.4%) and Big Ten regular-season champion and fifth-seeded Indiana (41.5%).

The hallmark of the Bill Self era has always been defense, as his team’s have been ranked in the top 10 of KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency in an astounding nine of 13 seasons. By that metric, Self’s best defensive team came in 2008, when, of course, the Jayhawks won the National Championship. This year’s team possesses a similar defensive profile to the 2008 team, ranking fifth in adjusted defensive efficiency, but outshoots the 2008 team from the perimeter by a healthy 3%.

Not having a dominant offensive big man this year has allowed Self’s offense to evolve into a more perimeter oriented, “pace and space” kind of team. If the play at the defensive end of the floor can remain as effective as it has been throughout Self’s tenure and the threes continue to fall at or around the current rate, Kansas has a very good chance at parlaying their #1 overall seed into another national title. “Fool’s Gold” appears to be valuable as ever for the Jayhawks.

Caleb Feist

Writer for Rock Chalk Blog who loves threes, the crying Jordan meme, and watching Mario Chalmers' game-tying shot on YouTube. Follow me on twitter, @cjfeist.