One month from today, the NCAA tournament begins in earnest. That's a wakeup call. So, with the final month's push to the best postseason event in American sports, let's take another look at how the new protocols and points of emphasis for officials have affected the sport.
In just about every conceivable way, college basketball is having a great year. That's due in some part to the game being cleaned up from hacky play and dreary defense that wasn't being whistled enough for aggressive contact.
This season, refs were instructed to pay close attention to hand-checks and also not bail out the defense by calling charges in cases where it wasn't safe or appropriate. These points of emphasis were put into place to allow for more freedom of movement and bring back more offense to college basketball, which last season had its lowest per-game points mark since the 1950s.
Last month, I spoke with NCAA coordinator of officials, John Adams, about the changes. He's mostly approving of how officials across the board have been performing. It's not been perfect, but he insisted criticism against his guys was overblown.
To see how the patterns are taking shape, again I am using the superb data tracking by KPI Sports.
The information below is based off all games played as of Feb. 16, essentially one month since the previous examination here on the site. I narrowed the focus to five major categories related to offensive efficiency, flow and game cosmetics. First, the monthly progression where we can judge on face value how offense is performing. Each is the overall average, per team, per game.
As happens in most seasons, as the months go on the games have fewer possessions, thus turnover averages and points per contest dip. This is in part, in my belief, to not just slight fatigue, but also coaching micromanaging. Games mean more, so the pace gets slower because that's an easier way to control an outcome, in theory.
But we're also seeing the foul numbers per gamef all as well, which is welcomed.
To see specifically how the greater trends above have formed with each week, here's the info:
On a week-by-week basis, every single week this season has seen a higher points-per-game clip than last year's pace, sometimes by as many as as a seven-point difference.
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.
2012-13 (5,669 games)
2013-14 (4,647 games)
Points per game, while having dipped from 71.7 a month back, are still at this point up 5.2 percent from a year ago, according to KPI.
Possessions are down from 69.0 a month ago, though points per possession is up from 1.040. Fouls are down from 19.5, and turnovers are down from 12.9.
Per the most recent update, there are 2.73 more free throw attempts per game this season compared to last year, making the 22.5 foul shots per game the highest since 1993-94, when it was 23.2. Free throws have come down from 22.3 to 21.9 per game between January and February. Fouls are being called, but this is by no means a whistlefest game in and game out.
And again, we compare this year to last because the 2012-13 season saw so much stodgy play and frustration with offense, it's important to note the change in one year.
After the Final Four, we'll have one more look at what this season wound up producing compare to both last season and the average over the past decade. But to this point, hard to figure this won't pace to be a huge success for college hoops. We're not all the way there yet, but from a macro standpoint the mission is working and the game is adjusting, as many expected it would.