Blog Entry

Offense on pace for historically low season

Posted on: December 29, 2011 11:40 am
Edited on: December 29, 2011 11:53 am

By Matt Norlander

I don't know how or where or when I got the notion, but in early December, it seemed to me that college basketball's aggregate scoreboard wasn't filling up the way it had in the past. Bluntly: It seemed more games had less points. Part of the reason I sensed this was, while doing Night Court duty here at the blog, I'd scroll through scores and stats ... and noticed a lot of teams failing to hit the 40 mark.

It seemed unusual to the untrained eye that so many squads weren't eclipsing 40 points in a game, which I've always said is fairly unforgivable at the D-I level, so long as you're not playing against Wisconsin. (Some will sardonically say they saw this coming.) It's never too much to ask a basketball team to score at least one point per minute, lest we hear taunts from NBA lugs whose eyes whiten and widen at the prospect of isolation sets with five seconds remaining on the shot clock.

Back on target here -- turns out, the hunch was true. At least to this point. We're at 42 games with less than 40 points scored by one team involved. And the number of teams cracking the 90-point barrier is down, too. (Chart below.)

And as of this week, college basketball is on pace to have its worst offensive year since 1982 (when, like this year, it was 67.6 points per game). In fact, there remains the possibility 2011-12 could be the most anemic year on the scoreboard since 1952, when free throw rules altered the sport forever. Check page 44 of the NCAA's record book to see how points per game bobbed from 63.3 in '52 to 69.1 in '53, never to drop down again. And that was without a 3-point line, which was more than two decades away.

So far this year, college basketball is averaging 1.5 fewer points per game than it was in 1953. Doesn't that seem extraordinarily bizarre to you?

I of course have to give credit to Ken Pomeroy (if you aren't registered at his site, come on already) for helping confirm my suspicions. I contacted him when I wanted a litmus test on this, and he was able to quickly double-check the numbers in his database. He was as surprised as I.

Here's the chart. Each year is the data we have as of Christmas Day, so approximately seven weeks of games. You'll notice the huge uptick in games from 2005 to 2006, and that's due to the increased amount of early-season tournament games/exempted tournaments. Also note that points per game actually went up that year. Yet, with this year having the highest amount of games yet, the average has dipped significantly from 2006.

<40 denotes games with a team scoring less than 40 points
>89 denotes games with a team scoring more than 89 points
GP is games played that season by Christmas

Year   <40  >89    GP    PPG

2004   20   167   1383   68.8
2005   30   163   1456   68.7

2006   35   232   1770   69.0

2007   37   219   1751   69.1

2008   31   165   1732   68.1

2009   28   227   1773   69.2

2010   36   177   1817   68.6

2011   42   169   1856   67.6

Pomeroy said scoring usually gets a small uptick in league play, but it's no guarantee. Even still, cracking an even 68 points per game doesn't seem likely.

So that's the data. The evidence -- what does it mean? I can't answer that, and neither can you. Not yet, anyway. I thought it might be too many 3-pointers being taken, being missed, and leading to staggered results. But that's not the case either, at least not at the top. The top 20 3-point shooting teams this year are hitting a higher clip than any upper echelon group from the past half-decade. Do the fact-checking yourself to see.

So let's have the conversation now. Why is college basketball less fluid this season? You want to take the cheap AAU-ization talking point? Or too many games played? If that's the case, why didn't last year's mark fall so low? And wouldn't more games mean players are more worn out, thus they'd be worse on defense, not offense? This was supposed to be a big year for college basketball. The NBA lockout drifting alongside the start of the college season; the return of so many lottery picks; and a batch of teams at the top of the rankings with grand marketing appeal and championship bloodlines.

But the secret until now: teams are having historically big issues with scoring. If only we could shoot our way to the answer.

Photo: AP
Category: NCAAB

Since: Dec 5, 2006
Posted on: December 29, 2011 6:36 pm

Offense about normal this year

With the games under 40 point scored about 2% each of the last two years I see little significance in the data. The average is down a point but looking at the table there are three years in which the data changed a point. So the table, as presented, is statistically unremarkable. If there is an outlier here it is in the 2004 year @ 1%. All others are at 2%. Of course you are paid to remark about something each day so perhaps this is as good as anything.

The changes in college basketball are at least partly due to the vast increase in D-1 schools playing basketball. Or maybe I should say D-III schools playing basketball at the D-1 level. I have absolutely nothing against this change. Any school would be foolish not to join the bread line while the NCAA hands out tournament money to each school.

I can also note a disagreement with your contention that being tired drives up scoring. In fact it is just the opposite. Shooting takes the biggest hit when a player is tired because he does not get his legs into the shots. You can verify this by tracking scoring from NBA teams on the second or third night of back to backs compared to having one or more day of rest before the game.

Since: Jun 5, 2011
Posted on: December 29, 2011 4:26 pm

I call bull spit

The points are down 1.4 a game.  That's one-point-four, not fourteen.  It works out to a little under two percent.  The under-forty and over-eighty-nine numbers are up because more teams are playing early games against tomato cans.  This is really a case of "much ado about nothing."  
For comparison, gasoline was $2.11 a gallon on 12/29/05.  Today, it's $3.25.  That is an increase of around 54 percent.   The margin of error on opinion polls is estimated at five percent.  I could go on, but the point is pretty clear: there is no great statistical variation here.  If scoring went up ten points a game, it would be something to talk about.  I am actually pretty surprised that the numbers have stayed as close as they have, with no real spikes.

Since: Aug 28, 2006
Posted on: December 29, 2011 3:45 pm

What a lazy piece of writing.

Look it up yourself?  This isn't a high school lunch room argument.  Earn your pay.  YOU chose the topic, YOU look it up and report the FACTS.

Since: Jan 1, 2010
Posted on: December 29, 2011 3:01 pm

Offense on pace for historically low season

Woh - just realized it was a different Penn St game that the winner scored less than 40 points in.  Not the Illinois one.  Go big ten...

Since: Jan 1, 2010
Posted on: December 29, 2011 2:57 pm

Offense on pace for historically low season

Interesting article.  Only obvious trend from the chart is that consistently more games being played before Christmas.  Looks anomalous otherwise.  The Illinois/Penn St game referenced in this article marks the last time I've watched a full college basketball game.  (And, I'm an Illinois fan.)  The game was that traumatizing.

Since: Oct 16, 2011
Posted on: December 29, 2011 2:28 pm

Offense on pace for historically low season

First of all, love the premise of this article ... so are any other stats up or down that would explain the dip?  Was there a new rule change?  I don't know myself.

If anything, I do see a little more of a trend to play more defensive minded basketball.  Maybe I'm crazy, but teams like UNC and Kentucky, even West Virginia aren't running teams out of the building with their high paced high possession basketball.  Of course that could be the 'eye' test, but I would be curious to know if there have been more fouls called this year due to a rule change, resulting in more free throw attempts as opposed to no calls and a 'basket.'  How about team possesions per game?  That's where I would start looking.

So, although I love the idea of the article, would prefer to have some more background on how other stats have or have not changed other than the number of games.

Since: Apr 28, 2009
Posted on: December 29, 2011 2:16 pm

Offense on pace for historically low season

In 1953 I doubt referee's called charges everytime someone drove to the basket for layup. 

My solution, only call an offensive foul if a play lowers his shoulder or uses off hand/arm to gain position. 

It is so frustrating to see referee's take points off board, get guys in foul trouble, make player think twice about driving because they know they're going to be hit with a charge.

With the advent of HDTV and 60 inch plasmas, it appears that on about 85% of the charges called, the defensive player is not set anyways.

Since: Jun 8, 2011
Posted on: December 29, 2011 2:09 pm

Offense on pace for historically low season

More kids leaving school early, more three point shot attempts, poor free throw shooting and better defensive play.  I am surprised the difference is ONLY 1.5 points.

Since: Feb 3, 2011
Posted on: December 29, 2011 1:58 pm

Offense on pace for historically low season

I think it is obvious, the 3 pt line in the little league games are ruining the development of our kids. They all run out and shot 3's and no one develops a jump shot or offensive moves. The big men have dissappeard as they all want to run out and shot 3's and develop skill instead of post moves.  With no post feeds and post moves the easy baskets of the past just dont happen any more.   Its a bunch of runners in the alne instead of sound pull up jump shots, its a bunch of crazy runners over bigs instead of sound jump stops and jump shots.   The post players cant get position cause they dont grow up doing it.  Kids cant feed the post cause no one posts up .  Its obvious people.

Since: Jun 28, 2011
Posted on: December 29, 2011 12:17 pm

Offense on pace for historically low season

what do the advanced stats say?

eFG down?
TO% up?
OR% down?
pace down?

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