I didn't mean to stumble onto a Jay Wright secret ... but that may have been what happened this week when I started to research a potential blog topic.
Recently, I've been fascinated by the work of analyst Will Schreefer, especially when it comes to the excellent (and free) shot-chart tool he's created for college basketball players.
And one thing, in particular, interested me: his breakout on the site of "NBA 3s."
So I wondered how KU fared when it came to this aspect. I sent Schreefer a message, and he was nice enough to send back the data that he's compiled from available sources online.
The verdict? KU was a good "NBA 3-point" shooting team last season. The Jayhawks made 38.9 percent of their long-range 3s, which was well above the NCAA average of 34.5 percent for those shots.
Something else caught my attention, though, when Schreefer sent over the results by team.
NBA 3s made NBA 3s att. Missing games
Villanova 327 832 2
Michigan 249 691 3
Marshall 240 673 0
Wash. St. 231 623 0
Utah 219 608 0
Oregon 211 605 2
Marquette 258 604 2
UTSA 202 593 1
Seton Hall 224 589 2
Gonzaga 217 585 3
Auburn 210 585 2
Florida 218 580 3
Kansas 225 578 3
Before going further, let's get a couple of needed caveats out of the way.
1. The above leaderboard does not include all Division I schools. The site Schreefer uses has data from about 40 percent of games, which includes a heavy emphasis on the Power Five programs. You can see the number of missing games from the sample on the right of each school above.
2. The shot-chart data Schreefer uses appears to be entered by hand, so the length of shots is an estimation. This means it won't be perfect, but without camera tracking like MLB has, it's about the best we can do for now.
Having said all that ... the top teams above are intriguing to say the least.
Villanova - by far - leads the way. While this shouldn't be shocking (Villanova took a lot of 3s last season, so it stands to reason that some of those were from distance), it is worth noting that Wright likely wasn't limiting his players to only attempts with toes right behind the line.
The Wildcats' national championship foe - Michigan - is second on the list, and that's even with three games missing from its data set.
And in third place? Marshall, which actually makes sense considering its coach. Dan D'Antoni - his younger brother Mike is the Houston Rockets' coach - became a darling of the basketball analytics community in 2016 following his postgame rant about the value of 3-pointers.
If we trust the data to be mostly reliable, those three teams clearly put themselves ahead of others when it comes to shooting long 3s.
And though I hadn't thought about it much until now, those squads could be gaining an edge by doing so.
The reason for that comes down to math. Kirk Goldsberry explored this a bit with Grantland in 2014 when he wrote a piece examining whether the NBA should move the 3-point line back.
While points per shot dramatically decrease as NBA players move away from the rim, the same couldn't be said for deeper 3s. In general, those were still efficient attempts, especially when compared to two-point shots not close to the basket.
Another way to look at it: Schreefer had college teams making NBA 3s 34.5 percent of the time last season, while Hoop-Math's data says the NCAA average for mid-range shots is 34.9 percent. Those numbers are basically the same, but the NBA 3 is worth an additional point.
There are other reasons to think that long 3s could be beneficial to an offense. For one, the deeper shot often is more open, and adding a foot or two onto an attempt typically won't be a problem for a high-level shooter anyway (Svi Mykhailiuk's NBA combine video is some evidence of that).
Making defenders guard out to 25 feet also, in theory, should give an offense more space to operate. KU coach Bill Self often talks about the importance of getting the ball "flat" - or from corner to corner - to force a defense to guard 50 feet horizontally. It would follow logic, then, that getting a team to guard you further out vertically would cause additional defensive stress as well.
And this all makes me start to re-evaluate how I've viewed deep 3s my entire life.
While watching basketball, it's only natural to gripe when a guy misses a long 3, thinking there might have been a better attempt available later in the shot clock. Part of this belief, I think, comes from other sports, where closer is almost always better.
In football, getting past the goal line is worth six points, while getting close but not there is potentially worth 3. In soccer, launching every shot from outside the box is obviously not the most efficient way to score.
Basketball is just different, though. Shooting from distance can be worth an additional point, as complicated as that can be to rationalize in our own minds.
NBA 3s, based on the data above, appear to be decent shots in the college game. And a few teams appear to be taking advantage of that quirk.
Every team does not have the perfect personnel to play this way. KU lost nearly all of its 3-point production from last season, so a spike in deep 3s this season would be an unexpected development.
It still will be worth tracking many of the others above.
There are many ways to build a successful team, and it's not a requirement that a good program must fire away from deep.
When it comes to this type of shot selection, though, Wright has certainly deviated from his peers - building a program where NBA 3-point shooting has become a profitable college approach.
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