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Patrick Hruby

Basketball Without Baskets

The Atlantic Sports Roundtable on college basketball's historic scoring drought

The Atlantic online

Midway through college basketball's conference schedule, scoring is down. Way, way down. Nearing historical lows. In this week's Atlantic Sports Rountable, we ask: who's to blame?

Patrick Hruby: ... Fact is, the basket part of college basketball is in sorry shape this season, with men's Division I shooting and scoring numbers at historically low levels. As of Feb. 1, teams were averaging 67.7 points per game, the lowest figure since 1981-82, when neither the shot clock nor the three-pointer were part of the campus game. Field-goal accuracy was at 43.3 percent, the lowest mark since 1964-65. And three-point shooting was at 33.9 percent, the lowest mark since the arc was introduced in 1986-87.

Who let the air out of college basketball's ball?

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins blames bigger, more physical defenders. Xavier's Chris Mack blames better video scouting. Others fault poor shooting fundamentals—a dubious proposition, given that free throw shooting is roughly the same as it always has been—or that corrupter of tall young men-cum-longtime hobgoblin of lazy sportswriters everywhere, AAU summer basketball. In a fabulous piece, writer Luke Winn makes a compelling case that over-controlling, slow-it-down coaches are the real culprits, sacrificing "pace for slightly higher efficiency," afraid to run because running means risking "losing games and losing players" ...

Hampton Stevens: ... The biggest change in college hoops over the last few decades hasn't been video or the size of players on the court. It's been players leaving the court early or never stepping on it. Forget the three-point line. The really big rules change came in 1976 with the end of the "hardship requirement" for teenage players entering the NBA Draft. That change, as you dudes know, gave us today's hoops landscape&mash;a world where the very good players like John Wall are always "one and done," and a truly superior athlete like LeBron James never plays a second of the college game.

To me, that exodus of talent is the culprit. The players aren't scoring in college because they're too busy doing it in the NBA ...

Jake Simpson: ... I was raised on the New York Knicks of the mid-1990s, whose idea of perfection was winning 70-65. I went to college in the Big Ten, that bastion of 45-44 games that manage to be insanely compelling to watch even though neither team makes a field goal in the final seven minutes. You wanna talk about unforgettable Final Four games? Try Michigan State-Wisconsin in 2000, where the final score was 53-41.

I'm sure this view puts me in the minority of basketball fans, who would rather see Doug McDermott score 50 than watch Nerlans Noel rack up 12 blocked shots. To the offensive majority, I would say that teams always gel later in the season (and in case you missed it, Duke beat N.C. State 98-85 in regulation on Thursday, so it's safe to say offense is at least alive and well in the ACC). But I wouldn't attribute all of the scoring woes this season to bad offense. Watch Syracuse execute Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone to perfection, or tune into any Kentucky game down the stretch and witness Noel either block or alter every shot within 10 feet of the basket. There's some pretty good defense being played in college basketball that shouldn't be overlooked ...

Read the full article at The Atlantic online