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

Apr 25, 2013, 12:09 PM EDT

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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.

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