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College Basketball Insider

UK made this Final Four thanks, in part, to unusually good shooting

DALLAS -- This time of the year, basically every year, people with jobs like my job get asked to go on radio stations all over the country to talk about the Final Four, and one of the things we're often asked to explain is how some low-seeded team reached the national semifinals.

This year, that team is Kentucky.

So I've been asked a lot about Kentucky this week -- about how this No. 8 seed has come together late to defeat (in order) Kansas State, Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan, about how the new Fab Five have lifted the Wildcats to their third Final Four in four seasons. Truth be told, there is no single answer to this question. Some of it is John Calipari and his self-described "tweak." Some of it Julius Randle beasting. Some of it is a new-found confidence.

Any of those answers work, I guess.

But the best answer, I think, is that UK has been shooting uncharacteristically well.

"Yes they have," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan told me Wednesday, and, history shows, this is a common thread between almost every low-seeded team that makes the Final Four.

Look it up, if you don't believe me.

But here's what I know: When a team makes a "surprising run" to the Final Four, it's typically rooted, in some regard, in shooting performances that are above and beyond how that team normally shoots, which brings me back to Kentucky. Yes, the Wildcats have been awesome on the offensive glass, and that's among the reasons they've been winning. But the Wildcats have been awesome on the offensive glass all season, and yet they still got swept by Arkansas and downed by South Carolina. So that's not why they're in the Final Four.

Here's why they're in the Final Four: Uncharacteristically good 3-point shooting.

The Wildcats shot 31.9 percent from beyond the arc in 18 regular-season SEC games, and they made more than six 3-pointers in a game just 22.2 percent of the time. (They went 12-6 in those games, by the way.) Since the end of the regular season, though, Kentucky has gone 6-1 with a lone loss to top-ranked Florida by one point in the SEC tournament championship game, and the Wildcats have shot 39.2 percent from beyond the arc in those seven contests while making more than six 3-pointers in a game 57.1 percent of the time.

"As hot as they're shooting, the only way you could affect their shooting would be to hire a janitor to do something to the rim," Ryan said with a laugh. "It's uncanny."

Yes, it is uncanny.

But it's not that uncommon for surprising Final Four teams.

Just look at the last four Final Fours.

Peavy (USATSI)
The work the Kentucky Wildcats have put into their long-range shooting is paying off. (USATSI)

In 2011, a VCU team that shot 35.1 percent from 3-point range in the regular season (and made more than 11 3-pointers in a game zero times in 34 contests before Selection Sunday) sank 12 3-pointers in a Round of 64 win over Georgetown, 12 3-pointers in a Sweet 16 win over Florida State and 12 more 3-pointers in an Elite Eight win over Kansas, meaning they did something three times in the NCAA Tournament that they didn't do a single time before the NCAA Tournament. VCU shot 44.2 percent from beyond the arc on its run to the Final Four. So HAVOC is great, I admit. But Shaka Smart didn't make the Final Four as a No. 11 seed because of an overwhelming defense as much as he made the Final Four as a No. 11 seed because good shooters became great shooters, practically out of nowhere.

Fast-forward to the next year.

Louisville was a No. 4 seed in 2012 after shooting 31.2 percent from 3-point range before Selection Sunday. The Cards then made seven 3-pointers in a Round of 32 win over New Mexico, nine in a Sweet 16 win over Michigan State and six more in an Elite Eight win over Florida to make the Final Four while shooting 39.0 percent from beyond the arc.

Fast-forward to the next year.

Wichita State was a No. 9 seed in 2013 after shooting 33.6 percent from 3-point range before Selection Sunday. The Shockers then made 14 of 28 3-pointers (50.0 percent) in a Round of 32 win over Gonzaga, 5 of 12 3-pointers (41.7 percent) in a Sweet 16 win over LaSalle and 8 of 20 3-pointers (40.0) in an Elite Eight win over Ohio State to advance to the Final Four, all of which suggests Wichita State upset a No. 1 seed in the Round of 32 last season for the exact same reason Wichita State, as a No. 1 seed, was upset in the Round of 32 this season -- because the lower-seeded team in that Round of 32 game got uncharacteristically hot from beyond the arc.

Wild, huh?

This is less of an issue in the NBA Playoffs because things tend to balance out over the course of a seven-game series. But college basketball determines a champion with a single-elimination tournament filled with 40-minute games, and, every year, some teams advance and some are eliminated because of little more than that they either got uncharaceteristically hot or watched their opponent get uncharacteristically hot from 20.75 feet.

This year, that team is Kentucky.

And if there's a janitor at AT&T Stadium reading, Bo Ryan would like to speak with you.


Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.
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