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NCAA men's basketball continues search for scoring decline

| Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

This isn't your father's college basketball.

This year's scoring average of 68.1 points per game in Division I continues a slide dating more than 20 years. While field-goal percentage has remained about the same during the past decade — holding between 43 percent and 44 percent — scoring is down more than two points per game. Both categories have experienced significant drops dating back a generation, when teams averaged 75.3 points per game and shot 46.2 percent in 1990.

“I don't think it's like baseball where you have to juice the balls to get fans interested. I don't think we're at that point,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “I do think there's a little bit of a reason for concern. Fans want to see high-flying, open-court plays. I think it's more of a phase we're going through.”

Myriad reasons exist for the scoring decline. The shot clock and the 3-point shot frequently are cited. But also to be considered are a more physical defensive style permitted by officials and the implementation of the one-and-done rule in 2006 in which players must be at least 19 years old and one year out of high school to be eligible to enter the NBA Draft.

College basketball runs in cycles. When the 45-second shot clock was implemented during the 1985-86 season, scoring increased 3.4 points per game the following season and about 7.0 points per game over a five-year span. That 1986-87 season, however, also saw the introduction of the 3-point arc at 19 feet, 9 inches.

When the shot clock was changed to 35 seconds in 1993-94, scoring dipped 2.5 points per game over the next two seasons.

The 3-point shot was extended to 20 feet, 9 inches for the 2008-09 season. That year produced the lowest field-goal percentage (43.77) in nine years and the lowest scoring average (68.8) since 1984.

“It's no surprise to me given the rule changes,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “I think the 3-point line is a big part of it. Teams are playing more zone, and more zone means longer offensive possessions, and teams are going to take more time to dissect the zone.”

To West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, the explanation for decreased scoring is simple: Players are bigger with colossal talent, yet the size of the court remains the same.

“Guys are bigger, faster, stronger than they've ever been,” Huggins said. “They guard way better than they've ever guarded. The style of play is so different, particularly defensively. Athletically, we've changed so much, but the size of the court hasn't changed, and the height of the basket hasn't changed. So, obviously, there's less room.”

Some of that colossal talent isn't sticking around long enough for their teams to benefit.

College freshmen dominated the top of the 2012 NBA Draft. Kentucky's Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist went 1-2, followed by Florida's Bradley Beal at No. 3, Connecticut's Andre Drummond (No. 9), Duke's Austin Rivers (10) and St. John's Maurice Harkless (15). Other freshmen selected early in the draft included Washington's Tony Wroten (25) and Kentucky's Marquis Teague (29).

Kentucky, Connecticut, Washington and Baylor were among those hardest hit by early departures. Only Kentucky, last season's national champion, appeared in this week's top 25 poll — at No. 25.

“We have a lot of parity in college basketball,” said Arizona coach Sean Miller, a star point guard at Pitt and Blackhawk. “Sometimes scoring happens when one team is clearly better than the next. It's not as easy winning in November and December maybe as it once was for the super powers or top-25 teams. If scoring's down, I would attribute some of that to parity.”

Texas coach Rick Barnes said players must bear some responsibility. Field-goal percentages are at 43 percent. Twenty-five years ago, teams were shooting 47 percent.

“I talk with my players every day about how they don't do the work and get their feet ready to shoot the ball,” Barnes said. “If you watch the tape, you can see a lot of different things why scores are down.”

When teams enter conference play in January, their offensive numbers are more likely to decrease than increase, Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said.

“Defenses are a lot better, especially as we get to this part of the year,” Anderson said. “The scouting that takes place, teams are very familiar with each other. So what you have are a lot of games that look like chess matches or boxing matches.”

“Good defense usually bumps good offense, but it may come back to officiating,” Self said. “The games are being called in a manner where there's more physical play.”

Kentucky coach and Moon native John Calipari's solution?

“Call the fouls. Call them all,” Calipari said. “This shouldn't be about who wins in the weight room. This is about movement and spacing. But it's where it's going.”

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jharris@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib.

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