Fans tuning in to Saturday’s marquee matchup between Duke and Virginia waited less than two minutes before getting what they came for. On an early Virginia possession, Duke’s Zion Williamson, the impossible freshman who moves with a guard’s agility while weighing 280 pounds, recovered a loose ball and hammered down a two-handed dunk with Old Testament fury.

Williamson is expected to be the top pick in this year’s N.B.A. draft and has been this season’s signature player — a quality so inseparable from his ferocious slams that a rare missed dunk last week against Boston College became a highlight in its own right.

The only other player who has come close to capturing the collective imagination as Williamson is Murray State’s Ja Morant, a 6-foot-3 sophomore who has played his way from virtual anonymity to likely top-five draft position on a diet of Jordan-esque leaping, flying slams.

That Williamson and Morant are this season’s college basketball folk heroes is in one sense entirely logical. Dunks are popular, they dunk well, therefore they are popular.

Yet in the context of recent history and current basketball trends, they are outliers as stars because they are relatively poor shooters from long distance.

Neither player can efficiently utilize the 3-pointer, which has cemented itself as the most treasured tool in the modern offensive game. Williamson has made less than 30 percent of the 47 3-pointers he has attempted. Morant is at 32.7 percent, below the Division I average of 34.3 percent.

Williamson’s attitude toward the 3-pointer may be best summarized not by any of his own shots, but by his sensational block of De’Andre Hunter’s ill-fated attempt late in Saturday’s game, an 81-71 Duke victory.

Bilas said it was possible that, after several years in which the 3-pointer has predominated in top offenses, coaches have improved at devising defenses to stymie perimeter shooting — in that way placing a premium on wing players who excel at close range. But mainly Williamson and Morant stand out because they are standouts.

“We’re seeing more dunks because there are more spectacular athletes out there,” he said.

“A lot of guys can dunk, but he dunks on the way up,” he added of Williamson. “His head is literally at or over the rim every time.”

Recent seasons’ emphasis on the 3 was easy to understand if you looked to the N.B.A.’s discovery of the 3-pointer’s efficiency. The Golden State Warriors emerged as a dynasty thanks in part to their high-volume 3-point shooting, and even they have been surpassed by teams like the Houston Rockets who attempt 3s at record numbers while confining their other shots to the restricted area under the basket.

Meanwhile, the trey picked up a cachet that had previously been reserved only for the jam. Players who sank one from deep mimicked bow-and-arrow shots toward their benches, igniting their teammates; Stephen Curry, Hield and Young became the players youngsters aspired to play like.

And to be sure, 3-pointers have not gone away. This season they account for nearly a third of the points scored in Division I, according to, the highest ever and part of a steady upward trajectory. Teams are making 34.3 percent of attempts, which is just a few fractions of a percent off the past couple years’ heights.