Tracking trends: Latest data on fouls, points, offense in college hoops

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

Steve Fisher and the Aztecs have won with good D and adjusting to the whistle.(USATSI)
Steve Fisher and the Aztecs have won with good D and adjusting to the whistle. (USATSI)

Are you enjoying this 2013-14 college hoops season? I hope so. It's been pretty good with a bundle of story lines.

Chief among them when we started back in November were A) the freshmen phenoms and B) the forthcoming changes in the way officials would be calling games. A point of emphasis on giving less lenience to defenders attempting to draw charges, and a quicker whistle on hand-checking, were two aspects of the game being brought in to allow more freedom of movement, a safer area near the basket, and ultimately give college basketball more offense.

In short: Moves were made to pretty up the game.

I spoke with NCAA coordinator of officiating John Adams this week, and he told me he's satisfied with how the new rules are being utilized, generally speaking, by crews across the country. But does the data match his belief, that the games are showing more offense? I looked at the trends a little over a month ago, so it's time again to take another peek.

I asked the NCAA for its latest numbers; it said the next massive update will be coming in a couple of weeks. So again I am using the superb data tracking by KPI Sports.

The information below is based off all games played as of Jan. 15 of this season. Here's the monthly progression in some of the major categories, the spots where we can judge on face value how offense is performing. Each is the overall average, per team, per game.

Month
Possessions
PPP
Turnovers
Team fouls
PPG
November
72.0
1.043
13.2
20.2
73.2
December
71.0
1.033
12.8
18.9
70.7
January
69.9
1.046
12.3
19.2
70.4

We see the games are getting slower. The points per possession have fluctuated, while turnovers have gone down -- a good thing for offense -- as have fouls, a good thing for defense. But points are dipping, which correlates with the fact the games have fewer possessions. So we're slowing.

Want a closer look? Here's the week-by-week progression of those stats this season.

Date
Possessions
PPP
Turnovers
Team fouls
PPG
Week 1
72.0
1.016
13.7
21.2
73.1
Week 2
71.0
1.044
13.3
20.5
74.1
Week 3
69.9
1.046
13.1
19.9
73.1
Week 4
68.3
1.057
12.6
19.3
72.1
Week 5
68.8
1.033
12.8
19.2
71.0
Week 6
68.9
1.033
13.1
19.1
71.2
Week 7
68.0
1.040
12.8
18.9
70.7
Week 8
68.1
1.031
12.8
18.5
70.2
Week 9
68.1
1.035
12.7
18.9
70.5
Week 10
67.6
1.050
12.2
19.4
71.0
Week 11
65.3
1.035
11.9
18.5
67.6

As you can see, we started out racing at 72 possessions per game and teams were committing loads of fouls, but those have certainly come way down. Is a reduced foul rate indicative of coaches and teams adjusting to the whistle, or the officials easing up on their foul calls? Plenty would argue the former.

To that, here's what Adams believes: "Here's what I've said to other folks: I think this time next year, we won't be talking about the new rules. We'll settle into a new normal. I don't know where that's going to be, no one really does, but it's certainly going to be a game that features more freedom of movement than it did last year. I think an awful lot of these plays that are getting calls have been fouls for 20 years, and we didn't call them. Why would you think it's OK to have two hands on the dribbler and have that not be a foul?"

And if you're curious as to how this year on the whole compares to how all of last season shook out, the differences are right here: more possessions, more points per possession, fewer turnovers, more fouls, and more points per game overall.

Season
Poss./Game
PPP
Turnovers
Team fouls
PPG
2012-13 (5,669 games)
66.7
1.012
13.3
17.7
67.5
2013-14 (3,091 games)
69.0
1.040
12.9
19.5
71.7

According to the latest data from KPI Sports, free throws attempts are up nearly three per game, 19.8 to 22.7. Percentage-wise, according to KPI, that is the greatest disparity of all the categories being tracked, a 15-percent rise in from a season ago. The greatest statisical dip as of now is in steals, a 6.5-percent drop in per-possession numbers (.20 to .19) and overall steals per game have lowered from 6.7 a year ago to 6.4 as of today.

Now, comparing this season to just last season isn't the be-all, end-all, but it does show the closest contrast in how the game has been affected. The differences in the stats may seem small, but it takes a lot of games to create that much separation. Unquestionably, the game is moving toward the style that the NCAA wants it to be going.

We'll check back in again in February, when the NCAA releases its latest findings in data for this season in comparison to recent ones.

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