Why has Auburn's 3-point shooting gotten cold?
The Tigers went 21.9% from deep during their three weeks as the nation's No. 1 team. Can a deep dive into the numbers tell us why?
SG K.D. Johnson (Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)
After a close overtime loss at Arkansas and a double-digit home win over Texas A&M, Auburn fell just one spot from its first-ever run at No. 1 in the AP poll to No. 2 in the country on Monday.
That matches what the bookmakers in Las Vegas think of the Tigers, at least when it comes to national championship odds. According to Vegas Insider, Auburn has the second-best odds (+800) to win the title — only behind top-ranked Gonzaga (+500).
As Auburn enters the last three weeks of the regular season holding a lead in the race for the SEC title and in prime position for a coveted No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, there’s one big problem that stands out to Bruce Pearl.
The issue reached a new point Saturday, when Auburn dispatched Texas A&M with relative ease in a 75-58 victory where it never trailed and didn’t spend a ton of time leading by fewer than 10 points.
During the game, Auburn hit just three of its 25 attempts from 3-point range. That 12% mark on 3-point field goals was the lowest for the Tigers since a loss at Missouri in 2020, when they went 1-17 (5.9%).
Even more surprising was that ice-cold performance came at home in Auburn Arena. It was the worst 3-point shooting percentage for an Auburn team at home since Jan. 19, 2013, when the Tigers went 0-15 in a 22-point loss to Kentucky.
“It's the next thing we've got to do to be really considered being able to win this championship,” Pearl said. “If we don't start shooting it better, we won't. We just won't.”
Pearl was most likely referring to the SEC championship. And it’s worth noting that, in conference play, Auburn has the second-worst 3-point field goal percentage (27.7%), with Mississippi State (27.2%) being the only team below it.
According to KenPom, nine of the last 10 SEC regular-season champions have finished in the top five of the league in 3-point shooting in conference games. The lone exception is 2019 LSU, which finished 11th in that statistic (31.7%). Efficiency from beyond the arc is a staple of championship teams, particularly in this era of college basketball.
But let’s extend that to the national championship picture. The last five national champions have all shot 35% or better from 3-point range during their title seasons. The last three — 2018 Villanova, 2019 Virginia and 2021 Baylor — all shot better than 39.5% from deep.
Auburn is currently shooting 31.3% from downtown this season, which ranks 292nd nationally. Compared to the rest of the teams inside the top 10 of the latest national championship odds, the Tigers are the clear outlier:
Gonzaga: 38.3% (13th)
Auburn: 31.3% (292nd)
Purdue: 40.5% (3rd)
Duke: 36.6% (41st)
Arizona: 34.1% (149th)
Kentucky: 35.6% (76th)
Baylor: 35.8% (68th)
Kansas: 36.3% (52nd)
UCLA: 34.3% (137th)
Villanova: 35.9% (64th)
Of course, Auburn has been able to overcome this lack of 3-point accuracy with relative ease this season. The Tigers are 23-2 and are just outside the top 15 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency.
Auburn is attempting its lowest rate of 3-pointers (39.8% of its total field goal attempts) since Pearl’s first season on the Plains, and it hasn’t stopped it from averaging 80 points per game — good enough for No. 10 nationally.
Having a dominant frontcourt of Walker Kessler and Jabari Smith, combined with a deep crew of guards and wings who can score in a variety of ways, puts Auburn in some elite company on offense without having to overly rely on the 3-ball.
But it’s not like Auburn has been this bad from 3-point range all season long, either.
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