How is NCAA women’s basketball evolving?

Michelle Kim
May 1 · 3 min read

Basketball is a game of constant evolution. To find out exactly how women’s NCAA basketball is changing, we examined 37 metrics from the Her Hoop Stats archive spanning four seasons (2015-16 to 2018-19) across Division I women’s college basketball. To pick out broader trends, we averaged across all teams by season. Three metrics immediately jumped out.

  1. Three Pointers Increased, Two Pointers Decreased

Since 2015, women’s college basketball has seen an 8.4% relative increase in three-point rate. This past season, 28.5% of scoring attempts came from beyond the arc, which has increased steadily from 26.3% four seasons ago. Like the rest of the basketball world, it seems NCAA teams are increasingly embracing the long ball.

As more possessions result in three-point attempts, we expect to observe a decrease in other scoring outcomes and we see just that. Two-point field goal attempts per game have decreased steadily (-3.8% change) as more shots are being taken from distance (8.0% increase).

These trends are consistent with broader shifts across all of basketball including the WNBA, the NBA, and men’s collegiate basketball. At typical shooting percentages, three-pointers generate more expected points per shot (point value times field goal percentage). With three-point accuracy holding steady between 31–32% and two-point accuracy at 44.3% for most recent season, the value proposition of three pointers is becoming more attractive for teams across NCAA women’s basketball.

2. Block Totals Decreased

We were somewhat surprised to find that the number of blocks (-4.3%) has decreased since 2015. It seems counterintuitive, given the national focus on top programs such as Baylor, Mississippi State, and Notre Dame, that have all featured gifted shot blockers. Upon further inspection, we found that as blocks decreased, block rate (blocks normalized to two-point field goal attempts) remained steady. In other words, blocks are only decreasing because two-point attempts are decreasing.

3. Offensive Rebounding Declined

Finally, we saw a steady decrease in offensive rebound percentage (-3.0%), which is the rate of offensive rebounds gathered from all opportunities. It appears that teams are growing averse to sending numbers to crash the boards. Perhaps the risk of getting burned in transition is too great to outweigh second shot opportunities.

As we continue to pore over the data, we will be breaking down these broader trends in more detail. While the average NCAA team shoots more three-pointers than before, there are significant and extremely successful outliers to these trends. As teams with different strategies and styles battle for dominance, the ultimate question is how do these trends impact wins?

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Michelle Kim

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