How college basketball has fallen in love with the 3-pointer

College basketball has fallen in love with the 3-pointer. That much is clear. Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

MILWAUKEE -- The soundtrack for the authors of the 3-pointer evolution that's changed college basketball was a thumping EDM track Zaza Pachulia blasted while he stretched in the Bradley Center, home of the Milwaukee Bucks.

"It's good," Pachulia said as his teammates streamed past him and shook their heads in disapproval before a game against the Bucks in January.

Steph Curry, unavailable for that game due to injury, rode an exercise bike. Kevin Durant put on his headphones, extended his legs and bobbed his head in a corner locker. Klay Thompson grabbed snacks from a large table. Draymond Green chomped on a pregame meal. Nick Young and JaVale McGee laughed.

The Golden State Warriors have manufactured the most game-altering movement of the 21st century. Curry and the Warriors turned a flashy, 3-pointer barrage into two titles in three seasons and the beginning of a dynasty that could rule the NBA for years. Meanwhile, college basketball took note.

Proof? The players who participated in the first two rounds of this year's NCAA tournament collectively made 716 3-pointers, a record, per ESPN Stats & Information research. They also attempted a combined 2,129 3-pointers, a 25.5 percent increase from the first- and second-round tallies of 2013-14 (1696) -- the year of Curry's first All-Star campaign and the season before the Warriors won their first championship. In short, the Warriors made the 3-pointer cool.

"It's not new anymore," Durant said. "It feels like the 3-point line is fairly new. It came in, what, the mid-'80s, maybe? It's been a part of the game for so long now, so kids grew up on it. Twenty years ago, you didn't grow up on the 3-point shot or shooting it from that far. And then you've got so many NBA players. Steph just changed the game with the way he shoots the [3-pointer]. Klay. Bigs shooting the [3-pointer] the way they shoot it. You see these kids, they watch their favorite players, and they've added the [3-pointer] into their game. It's making the players who play this game more well-rounded. And it's only going to help the game improve."

No collegiate team has capitalized off this newfound love and acceptance of the 3-pointer more than Jay Wright and Villanova, who've inspired others in college basketball to follow their small-ball approach.

The Wildcats, who will vie for their second national title in three years, are the favorites to win it all in San Antonio after connecting on 40 percent of their 3-pointers this season. In all, 47.1 percent of their field goal attempts have been 3-pointers, per KenPom.com. Six Villanova players have made at least 39 percent of their shots from beyond the arc this season, too.

They've duplicated the Warriors' blueprint at the collegiate level.

Jalen Brunson is Curry, a smart, crafty guard who can hit shots from anywhere. Mikal Bridges is Kevin Durant, a lengthy athlete who is comfortable above the rim or on the perimeter. Donte DiVincenzo is Klay Thompson, Nova's 6-5 shooter and the third offensive option who creates problems for most defenders. Eric Paschall, a great defender, and Omari Spellman, a 6-8 big man who has made 45 percent of his 3-point attempts this season, combine to form Wright's version of Draymond Green.

Two years ago, the Wildcats won a national title in part because they were a matchup dilemma for a fleet of teams who'd used traditional lineups with two post players. This year, the Final Four will feature four teams -- Villanova, Michigan, Loyola-Chicago and Kansas -- who've used small-ball to reach the most pivotal stage of the season.

Some coaches believe Wright deserves the credit for that shift.

"I think, in my generation growing up, studying coaches, people think Bob Knight changed basketball," Texas Tech's Chris Beard said before his team's matchup against Villanova in the Elite Eight. "He did with motion offense. And Coach [Eddie] Sutton, who should be in the Hall of Fame, it's an absolute no-brainer, changed basketball with the defense. ... I think, in my generation, Coach Jay Wright [has] changed basketball. He's the one that kind of invented small ball, where your 4-man can shoot 3s. They always have four guys on the floor that shoot. I mean, this is the way that our teams try to play."

Wright's strategy relies on players who've evolved in this era of NBA talent that's popularized the rewards of 3-pointers.

Trae Young, the most intriguing and exciting player in college basketball this season, who hoisted 3s from all over the floor, said Curry opened up the court and options for point guards who no longer feel constrained to singular roles.

"Steph is someone who, obviously, I look up to and he's changed the game and made it possible for a guy like me to be able to have the opportunity to play at the highest level," Young said.

High school coaches have noticed an aggressive and abrupt switch in recent years, too.

"More [high school] teams are actually playing five guards," said Larry McKenzie, head coach at North High School in Minneapolis, a reigning back-to-back state champion. "Rarely are teams playing through the post. We played a team from Wisconsin that shot 33 3-pointers, made 15 out of 16 in the first half. Their 6-9 kid was shooting 3-pointers. Most kids strictly want to play on the perimeter. Kids emulate what they see on TV for sure."

If Curry started the 3-pointer party, eventual teammate Durant invited big men who'd previously been banished from shots beyond the arc until the All-Star began to challenge old ideas about post players.

"I've watched Durant since he was at Texas and always respected the range he could shoot at being that tall," said South Dakota State's Mike Daum, a 6-9 forward and NBA prospect who made 43 percent of his 3-point attempts this season.

Before the Warriors emerged as a force in the NBA, led by Curry and his offensive exploits five years ago, the 3-pointer maintained its nostalgic vibe. The most valuable shot had not yet supplanted an emphasis on the midrange game, but the Warriors created a new blueprint.

"There were like two of them my freshman year [of high school]. Then sophomore year, I shot more. Junior, more. Senior year, I was probably pulling way too many of them. But I just kept shooting. I always had it. My dad always made sure I had it because my dad could shoot. He told me that eventually I would have the freedom to shoot it." Michigan State's Jaren Jackson Jr.

It's a cultural shift Patrick Ewing addressed at Big East media day in New York City, where he told reporters he could have been a successful 3-point shooter in his era but he -- and other big men -- knew "where my bread was buttered."

That wasn't Steve Kerr's plan for Mo Speights, a 6-10 forward who went from a 26 percent mark to a 39 percent success rate from the 3-point line during this three years with the Warriors. Kerr asked his big man to take more 3-pointers, a green light Ewing might have enjoyed.

Curry gets the credit for shifting the impact of the 3-pointer at all levels. But the big men who've added 3-pointers to their arsenals have been critical innovators, too.

"The game itself has changed," Kerr said. "Defense has changed because of the rules. When Patrick was playing, you couldn't double team the post until the guy got the ball. You can do that now. It's made posting up much more difficult, so all the rule changes led to an offensive revolution; led to centers deciding, 'I'll go shoot 3s,' whether it's Pau Gasol, Mo Speights, Marc Gasol. You're seeing a lot of centers who three years ago never took a [3-pointer] now all of a sudden they're taking a [3-pointer]."

The Warriors' rivals have followed their lead. During the 2013-14 season, 3-pointers had accounted for 30 percent or more of the total shot attempts for just five teams, per NBA.com. This season, 25 teams fit into the category with half of the Houston Rockets' shot attempts coming from outside the 3-point arc.

That movement impacted college basketball, too. During the 2013-14 season, 40 percent of the total field goal attempts for 35 teams were 3-pointers, per KenPom.com. This season, it's up to 104 squads.

One of those squads, Kansas, which is headed to its first Final Four since 2012, established a record under Bill Self with 41.1 percent (entering the Sweet 16) of its total field goal attempts coming from the 3-point line this season. The Jayhawks also relied on a four-guard lineup, an idea encouraged by small-ball NBA teams like the Warriors.

"There is no question, when the Bad Boys played defense the way they did, I think colleges started emulating it and that's why scoring went down," Self said. "I do think we all steal from others and there's no one better to steal from than the NBA. ... I think it all trickles down, but the way that the Warriors and the [Houston] Rockets do it is probably different than the colleges do it. I don't want to say I've watched them and tried to emulate what they do, but I'm totally bought in to you don't have to play two bigs to win. And it's much harder to match up with a small team than it is for a small team to match up with a big team."

Only four Division I teams attempted 800 or more 3-pointers during the 2013-14 regular season. This season, 59 programs entered the 800 club. The 30-second shot clock that was implemented for the 2015-16 season added nearly four possessions to the average game, a change that does not account for the massive rise of 3-point attempts in college basketball.

This season, Savannah State led the country with 1,304 attempts from beyond the arc, more than Notre Dame and Maryland combined to attempt during the 2013-14 season. The Tigers kept their gap with Michigan State at single digits for most of the first half after shooting 21 3-pointers before the break (42 total) in a matchup on New Year's Eve.

"It was unique for us," Tom Izzo said during his postgame interview on Big Ten Network. "You don't play against a team that shoots 40 3-pointers very often."

Michigan State's Jaren Jackson Jr. connected on 40 percent of his 3-point attempts this season. The 6-foot-11 freshman -- the Big Ten's defensive player of the year -- won't fall outside the top-10 spots in the NBA draft. But he also won't be unique as a big guy who is not bashful from beyond the arc. He and others matured in the era that encouraged range for post players.

"There were like two of them my freshman year [of high school]," said Jackson, son of former NBA veteran Jaren Jackson Sr. "Then sophomore year, I shot more. Junior, more. Senior year, I was probably pulling way too many of them. But I just kept shooting. I always had it. My dad always made sure I had it because my dad could shoot. He told me that eventually I would have the freedom to shoot it."

His teammate, Miles Bridges Jr., will likely join him in the lottery of this summer's NBA draft. The 6-7 forward's greatest asset is his versatility. He can guard multiple positions. And he's a reliable shooter.

"Steph Curry and those guys, they influenced so many kids to be able to shoot 3-pointers," Bridges said. "That's one of the main things kids do now instead of, like, get to the basket, dribbling and all that. They shoot 3-pointers. When I was growing up, it was all about dunks. That's what got me going. Now, the game is all about 3-pointers. James Harden, Steph Curry. All those guys. The top players in the league are making [3-pointers]. Even LeBron is starting to hit a lot of [3-pointers]."

It's not just the volume of 3-pointers the Warriors have inspired players to launch in record numbers at the collegiate level. It's the placement of the shot at the center of so many offensive schemes and the energy directed toward creating the shots that are changing the game, too.

"Honestly, I think the biggest impact it has had is the focus of playing the game the right way," said Iowa State's Steve Prohm, whose Cyclones have finished within the top 25 nationally in 3-point field goal percentage twice in the first three seasons of his tenure. "Playing selfless, playing with great ball movement, playing with skilled players that have great IQ and how important that is in execution. The other part is they play a very entertaining style and that in turn brings excitement."

And that's how the Warriors played that January night in Milwaukee.

Even though Curry was sidelined, the Warriors toyed with a Bucks squad fighting for a spot in the playoffs. Durant scored 26 points. The team finished with 28 assists and 11 turnovers.

And the Warriors returned to the locker for more food and fun, as family members and friends had gathered nearby.

They're aware of the effect they've had on the game. Thus far. History might mark this moment, however, as a turning point unlike any since the 3-point line was first implemented, so the Warriors might not realize their full impact on the game for decades.

In the game against the Bucks, Thompson had been accosted by a fan whom security guards later ejected. That interaction seemed to anger the All-Star who sat quietly by his locker after the win. When asked about his team's effect on the game of the basketball and the players who admire the Warriors, however, Thompson smiled.

"Growing up, they wanted to play like Mike, Kobe, LeBron," Thompson said. "But now kids are trying to play like Steph, which is cool because his game isn't predicated on athleticism. It's pure skill. ... That's just the evolution of basketball."