CARBONDALE — Missouri Valley Conference coaches are just as concerned about defending the new 3-point line as scoring there.
The new distance in NCAA Division I — Division II and III will add the new arc by the 2020-21 season — will move back 15 inches in men's basketball to 22 feet, 1 3/4 inches. The arc will remain the same for women's basketball (20 feet, 9 inches). And while the two best 3-point shooting teams in the Valley did well last season (Drake tied for the regular-season championship and Northern Iowa reached the MVC tournament title game), the league has historically been more defined by its defense.
Eight of the last nine teams to lead the league in field goal percentage defense (all games) have reached the NCAA Tournament.
"It just depends on what you're gonna do," said Loyola coach Porter Moser, whose team led the Valley in shooting and was third in 3-point shooting. "Are you gonna be more pack-line, and continue to pack it in? Or are you going to spread further out to defend that 3-point line? I think that's the decision that everybody is going to be making this offseason."
Loyola typically plays with four guards and one post/5 man. New SIU head coach Bryan Mullins, the associate head coach at Loyola last season, plans to play with four guards around starting center Barret Benson. Benson, a 6-foot-10 graduate transfer, was a four-star recruit out of high school and may be able to take advantage if opponents come out to guard the Salukis' shooters.
"I think it'll increase the spacing, offensively, and, defensively, it'll make it a little harder to guard, but then, for our guys, I think it'll separate the guys that can really shoot it from the guys that can kinda shoot it," Mullins said. "I think, all around, it's great, and it'll be interesting how the percentages turn out the first year."
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While few teams in the Valley will play two dominant big men at the same time - Missouri State, Bradley and Northern Iowa may try - every squad has at least one big-time scorer down low. Cameron Krutwig, a 6-9, 255-pound junior center, was Loyola's leading rebounder, second-leading scorer and was third on the team in assists. Indiana State added Christopher Agbo, a 6-8, 280-pound center from Pearl River (Mississippi) Community College this season.
Missouri State returns forward Tulio da Silva, the MVC newcomer of the year last season, and added one of the top junior college players in the country, forward Gage Prim, and Lamont West out of West Virginia. Bradley returns starting center Koch Bar and forward Elijah Childs, the MOP of the MVC tournament. Northern Iowa gets Austin Phyfe, a 6-9, 235-pound center, back from injury and returns three other bigs, 7-footer Justin Dahl, 6-10 Shandon "Biggie" Goldman and 6-9 Luke McDonnell, who made 16 of 38 3s (42.1%).
"I think you gotta be up a little more in gaps, be a little closer to some shooters," Bradley coach Brian Wardle said. "Hopefully it spreads the defense out a little bit and opens up driving lanes more. That's, obviously, the goal of it all, and post play, too. Getting some post play back in the game would be nice. So we'll see. I think teams will make adjustments along the season if they're struggling in that area."
The NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Rules Committee recommended moving the 3-point line back after experimenting with the new distance — which is what FIBA and the Olympics use — in the NIT the last two years. Teams in the 2019 NIT averaged 23.1 3-point attempts per game, compared with 22.8 during the regular season. Teams shot nearly as well behind the new arc (33%) as from the 20-9 circle (35.2%).
The last time the NCAA moved the line back, before the 2008-09 season, teams nearly shot the same percentage. Division I men's teams made 34.4 percent from the new line, compared to 35.2% the previous season.
Northern Iowa led the MVC in scoring defense in five of the last 10 years under coach Ben Jacobson. Kyle Green, the associate coach for the Panthers and the father of sophomore guard A.J. Green, said Northern Iowa's staff is examining how to deal with the guys that will no longer shoot from the longer line.
"The percentages, in the past you kind of looked at guys who shot it in the low 30s, they haven't been guys you've been as worried about shooting from the perimeter. Those guys are probably going to be shooting less of them, so then, how do you decide to defend them? If they're not even going to look to shoot, can you play off them more, or can you get more into help and in the gap? I think by the time we get into conference play we'll have a pretty good feel for it."
On Twitter: @THefferman