Alarming: Last season had fewest points and foul calls in decades

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

With so few fouls called, college basketball actually has a way to go to get back to normal. (USATSI)

What's the biggest concern -- above all others -- we should have about college basketball? How about the fact fewer fouls were called this past season than in any other on record. That is negatively startling, at least to me.

Some might say, "But fewer fouls means smoother play! The refs are finally not calling ticky-tack stuff. This is a good thing." Alas, that's not the case. Because what's happening is rougher play that leads to fewer fouls called. How can that be? Players are fouling with their chest and grinding up the game because that's exactly what many coaches are teaching them to do.

It's creating a slog, and it's why nearly everyone reacted so positively to that national final between Louisville and Michigan; the game was antithetical to the greater trend.

A story from USA Today by Daniel Uthman details the findings, which were released by the NCAA Tuesday.

The NCAA's 2013 final trends report reveals the following: 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.

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. Assists and turnovers reached extremes they haven't seen since 1993, when the report first tracked them. Assists saw a low of 12.82 per game, continuing a trend that began in 2007. Turnovers, meanwhile, also reached a low for recorded history, falling to 13.30 a game.

Turnover average was so low in part because teams have become more efficient -- but they're also using fewer possessions in each game. With that comes fewer opportunities to give the ball away. What we're seeing is coaches use up a lot of shot clock to try to get a better look at a better shot, and that has an erosive effect on game flow while actually upping team efficiency.

As points per game continue to dip, points per possession actually increase. It's an interesting inverse of trends. As a result, the past 13 seasons have seen fewer and fewer turnovers per game. The options for chaos don't exist on most possessions, and so the game becomes more predictable by nature.

"I'm no more concerned this year than last or year before," director of officials John Adams said in the story. "Because we've been looking at a decline in points (for a while). Clearly a 10- or 11- or 12-year decline is something to be concerned about."

The rules committee meets in a couple of weeks, and this will be topic No. 1, more than likely (in addition to the 30-second shot clock option). And yet, amid all this, the regular season and postseason saw spikes in viewership that were the highest, in some cases, in more than 10 years. So if college hoops had a 2012-13 campaign in which scoring was sucked dry, physical play dawdled game pace and there was not even one transcendent star -- think about what the sport can be in the next few years when those three trends could certainly reverse.

 
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