It’s not a coincidence that scoring and fouling are at historically low levels


The general consensus this season was that while the best college hoops games this season were thrilling, overall it was an ugly year for the sport. No one seemed to be able to score and every game looked more like a rugby match than it did a basketball game.

Now that the season is over and we can reflect, the numbers back that sentiment up. From Daniel Uthman of USA Today:

  • Scoring in Division I men’s basketball is at its lowest point since 1951-52. Teams averaged 67.5 points per game in 2012-13.
  • Team 3-point shooting percentage declined to its lowest mark since the 3-point line was introduced in 1986-87. Teams shot 34.05% from 3-point range this season, continuing a decline that began in 2011.

And perhaps an explanation why:

  • Foul calls reached an all-time low, and teams shot the fewest free throws of any season since 1976. Teams averaged for 17.68 fouls each per game, and they shot fewer than 20 free throws a game (19.76) for only the fifth time in history.

Over the last season or two, Jay Bilas has made a point out of emphasizing the need for more fouls to be called. His argument is that, essentially, if we want scoring to increase, we need to allow freedom of movement. Players need to be able to cut through the lane without being held or grabbed. They need to be able to dribble the ball without having two hands in their back. They need to be able to drive to the rim and trust that a foul will be called if they get clobbered.

This may make the games a bit tougher to watch initially, but as players and coaches adjust to how close the game is being called, it will open things up. Scoring will increase. There will be fewer slugfests. According to Rick Pitino, this is precisely what the NBA did when their game looked like it was becoming tackle football.

“What happened in the NBA now is they stopped all the arm bars, all the standing up of screens, all the coming across and chopping the guy,” he said at the Final Four. “They stopped all that. Now there’s freedom of movement in the NBA and you see great offense.”

“When you coach in the Big East, you should wear body guard. Peyton wears body guard, shoulder pads, because you can’t cut, can’t move. The referees are caught in a quandary. They’re saying, We’re going to ruin the game, we’re on TV. Jay is 100% right, if we want to get back, take a page out of the NBA, have freedom of movement.”

All of this discussion about lowering the shot clock to speed up the game is great, but all the evidence you need to discern why college basketball has become so defensive-oriented is right there. You win by being more physical, because physicality isn’t being penalized.

Call fouls and you open up the game.

It’s really that simple.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Michigan State playing zone? It’s possible

Tom Izzo
Associated Press
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Throughout Tom Izzo’s tenure at Michigan State the team’s half-court man-to-man defense has been a staple, and the Spartans have generally proven difficult to have a high rate of offensive success against. The reliance on that defense is why Izzo’s conversations earlier this summer about using some token full-court pressure due to the shortening of the shot clock caught some people off-guard.

According to the Detroit Free Press there’s another wrinkle the Spartans may use, and it’s likely that this wrinkle will show up more often than the full-court press. During Friday’s opening practice the Spartans worked on a 2-3 zone, and Izzo wants his assistants to make sure the team works on the defense consistently throughout the season.

That’s also why zone in general isn’t going to get heavy play at MSU, but having it as a tool could be beneficial — especially in games with touch fouls on the perimeter called in droves.

“I told (my assistant coaches): ‘You hold me accountable to working on it every day some’ … I have a tendency to drift off on that, and I don’t want to drift off on it,” Izzo said of the 2-3 zone. “But we will be, rest assured, a 90-some percent man-to-man team still and hopefully take some of those principles to zone.”

As noted in the story one of the risks in using pressure is allowing quality shots, which is why it’s unlikely that Michigan State will go to it. But even with Izzo vowing that his team will work on the zone, that doesn’t mean they’ll be playing it as often as Syracuse does.

Man-to-man has been Michigan State’s staple and it will continue to be. But it doesn’t hurt to look for other ways to keep opponents from getting the looks they want, especially if teams have five fewer seconds to find those shots.

Virginia used 3-on-3 to adjust to new shot clock

Malcolm Brogdon
Associated Press
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When the college basketball rules committee made the decision to trim the shot clock down to 30 second from 35, one reason for the switch was the desire to improve offensive production. With offensive numbers at their lowest point in years, proponents of the move see the shot clock change as a necessary move if scoring is to improve.

Whether or not that winds up being the case will be seen throughout the upcoming season, but teams are still having to make adjustments during the preseason.

Virginia, which has played at a snail’s pace (and with great success, mind you) in recent years, made some adjustments to their summer work in anticipation of playing with a 30-second shot clock. One adjustment was more games of 3-on-3 with a 15-second shot clock, which forced all involved to be more decisive in their offensive decision-making.

While the pack-line defense will always be a staple of Tony Bennett’s teams, the feeling in Charlottesville is that they’ve got the offensive firepower needed to both play faster and be more efficient offensively than they were in 2014-15 (29th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy). One of the players who will lead the way is senior guard Malcolm Brogdon, who led the team in scoring and was a first team All-ACC selection, and he discussed the team’s outlook with Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

And even though Anderson’s highlight-reel shot blocking was the thing that frequently fueled fast-breaks for U.Va. last season, Brogdon and [Anthony] Gill said they expect this year’s team to actually push the tempo even more.

“I think we’re going to be a team that gets out and runs more,” Brogdon said. “I think we’ll have three guards on the floor, most of the time, will be able to handle the ball as a point guard and get out in transition. I think we’ll play a lot faster.”

Brogdon and Gill are two of the team’s three returning starters with point guard London Perrantes being the other, and the Cavaliers also return most of their reserves from last year’s rotation. That experience will help them on both ends of the floor as they prepare for a run at a third straight ACC regular season title. And in theory it also allows them to extend themselves a bit more offensively than they did a season ago.