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Top 3-point threats in NCAA tourney

The setup is simple enough: five guys on the perimeter, five minutes on the clock, and a bunch of quick-rebounding managers.

The objective is even more basic: hit as many 3-pointers as possible before time runs out.

Except, of course, in plenty of practices this drill requires track shoes and noise-reducing headphones for the managers -- the first to help catch the inevitable long rebounds; the second to protect their ears from the constant clanking.

Twenty-nine years ago, the NCAA rules committee introduced the 3-point shot to college basketball. It changed the game. Within months, Rick Pitino and Providence exploited the long-distance swish and the simple math that three points is worth more than two all the way to the Final Four in 1987.

As we convene for the annual ritual known as March Madness, a good shooter remains the great equalizer, but a good shooter seems harder and harder to find.

"Shooting is kind of a lost art," said Kentucky's Devin Booker, who counts as one of the few grand masters of the craft.

There are plenty of reasons why. Fault the summer-league system that puts more of a premium on games than practice, or the evolution of the game into a he-who-gets-to-the-rim-fastest-wins mentality. ("It seems like everyone's more worried about breaking ankles," Villanova junior Ryan Arcidiacono said.)

But mostly, it comes down to a choice.

And a lot of coaches are taking a pass.

"Some kids get earmarked because of their body, their foot speed or lack of athletic ability that they're not a major conference kid," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "You know what? I'll give up some athletic ability and body type if I can get a kid who can stretch the defense and put that thing in the hole."

Brey has made a career over such decisions, living hard by a basic creed: "good shooting can cure a multitude of sins." It's worked out pretty well, especially this season as the Fighting Irish, who rank in the top 25 in 3-pointers made and 3-point percentage, head into the NCAA tournament with an ACC tournament crown and a 3-seed.

He's the one that uses the aforementioned shooting drill, by the way.

The Irish's record during the five-minute drill is 218 shots made -- that's more 3s than 231 schools have made all season. It breaks down to 43.6 makes per guy, 8.7 per minute.

Pat Connaughton, who ranks as the best sharpshooter on a sharpshooting Notre Dame team, doubles as a professional pitcher. He's already pocketed a $400,000 contract for the future after being selected in the fourth round of the 2014 MLB draft by the Baltimore Orioles.

Which means he knows a little bit about having good aim.

"I think with basketball, it might be a little harder," he said. "You're not in the same spot every time. You might be standing there with a kick-out, but not necessarily in the same place. Or you add movement to it, off a screen, where you have to maintain your balance and get your feet right, or you add a dribble to it."

All of which, of course, takes repetition.

The good ones come in early and stay late. Booker practically lived in the gym with his dad, Melvin. As a recent Villanova practice came to a close, Arcidiacano stayed at least 15 minutes longer, catching and shooting over and over again.

"Regardless if you're missing or making, you've got to keep shooting," said Booker, who followed his own advice after a slow start in Kentucky's exhibition games in the Bahamas. "Trust it."

So if it holds true that three still is greater than two, and shooting is something of a lost art, then it's probably worth looking at the teams and players who have the edge for this NCAA tournament:

Five hot-shooting teams to watch

1. Gonzaga: No surprise to see the Zags on this list, who have built a program on the backbone of the arc. Aside from 16-seed Lafayette, Gonzaga is the best 3-point shooting team in the field, hitting 40.8 percent of their attempts. What makes Gonzaga especially difficult is it's not a one-man show. Kyle Wiltjer might be known as the team's best shooter, but Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. are just as dangerous.

2. Notre Dame: Ask North Carolina how this goes. The jump-start of a decisive 24-2 run in the ACC tournament title game came at the onset, when the Irish hit three 3-pointers in the span of 1 minute, 8 seconds. And a different player was responsible for each. "When you dunk, you feel on top of the world. But for us, hitting a transition 3 is just as much of a dagger," Connaughton said.

3. Eastern Washington: The Eagles will be a hot upset pick against Georgetown, and with good reason. They love to shoot 3s, and the Hoyas don't necessarily excel at stopping them. Eastern Washington ranks seventh in 3-pointers attempted and even more, fourth in 3-pointers made. Tyler Harvey is the catalyst. He leads the nation with 122 treys sunk on the season. That doesn't bode well for a Georgetown team that allows opponents to shoot 35.9 percent from the arc, 263rd nationally.

4. Villanova: How have the Wildcats won 32 games? Simple. Of the eight guys Jay Wright plays, six of them shoot 37 percent or better from the arc, and the other two are JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu. Of the 68 teams in the tourney, Villanova is one of two single-digit seeds ranked in the top 25 in 3-point field goal percentage, 3-pointers made and 3-pointers attempted. This is a team that likes to shoot and also is very good at it. "A lot of teams want to pound it inside all day," Arcidiacono said. "We have guys that can do that, but we also can shoot it. We have a balance."

5. Davidson: What would you expect from the program and the coach that brought you Stephen Curry? A bunch of brawlers? Bob McKillop's Wildcats sees Jay Wright's Wildcats and raises them two more shooters -- that's eight players shooting 35 percent or better -- and two, Tyler Kalinoski and Jack Gibbs, who are connecting at 43 percent or better.

Most critical shooters

1. Devin Booker, Kentucky: Since everyone is searching for the Wildcats' Achilles heel, we might as well offer it: shooting. If Kentucky falls, that will be its downfall, and while the Harrison twins are capable (as anyone who saw last year's NCAA tournament Aaron-fed heroics can attest) but Booker is the key. Take him out of the equation and the Cats are just 131-of-433 (32 percent) from the arc.

2. Pat Connaughton, Notre Dame: As mentioned, the senior doesn't have to go it alone. The Irish have plenty of options. He just happens to be the best choice, able to hit in transition, off the dribble or on a kick-out with ease. A good shooter his entire career, he's great in his final season, improving his shot from 37.8 percent accuracy to 43.6.

3. Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga: Yes, the Zags have other shooters but Wiltjer is the most critical. Because of his size, he can make defenders uncomfortable away from their post perch. And it's no coincidence that in Gonzaga's two losses, Wiltjer was just 1-for-10 from the arc.

4. Quinn Cook, Duke: The player everyone doubted could co-exist with Tyus Jones has thrived in his newfound role. Moved to the off guard, he has answered the bell with a 40 percent shooting from the arc, tops on the team and easing any pain that otherwise might have been felt by the dismissal of Rasheed Sulaimon.

5. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: He's not the Sooners' best shooter -- that honor goes to Isaiah Cousins -- but when Hield gets going, with his swagger and personality, he's contagious. The Big 12 Player of the Year can roam around almost anonymously, and then -- boom! -- take over a game. Case in point: the conference tourney quarterfinals against Oklahoma State. With OU down nine early in the second half, Hield scored seven straight for the Sooners, igniting his team to the win.