Earlier this season, Colorado lost a 56-33 men’s basketball stinker at Wyoming.
UCLA, the place with all the banners, was held to seven points in a first half against Kentucky.
The Bruins were joined by USC the other day in the elite category of teams that have been held to exactly 39 points by Utah.
All this feeds into a growing national conversation over the paucity of scoring in college basketball and whether it’s a drag on the game’s popularity.
Its TV ratings tend to fluctuate, but only within a frame of relatively modest interest. NCAA-tournament numbers were up last year, while the title game between Kentucky and Connecticut drew a 12.4 rating, which is roughly half of the all-time record for the Larry Bird-Magic Johnson 1979 matchup.
A Sweet 16 game between Kentucky and Louisville, two of the game’s thoroughbreds, pulled a 5.9 rating. That’s considered healthy – but about half what you might expect for a middle-of-the-road NFL matchup.
“I guess it’s a problem,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said in answer to my question on the ACC teleconference the other day, “because we’re talking about it so much.”
Lots of theories have been advanced. Brey sounded a different note than I’d heard.
“Even though they’re (officials) cleaning up rough play, the physiques have changed so much,” he said. “Look back at the early 2000s, the 1990s, and it was a sleeker game. Now we’ve got more bodies that are like tight ends. It’s hard to officiate the post.
“Guys are in the weight room. There’s not as much room on the court as there was 20 years ago.”
Other ideas being entertained:
* The quality of fundamentals is down, a long-held view related to AAU basketball and grass-roots programs.
* Officiating changes to curb defenders on the perimeter, voted in two years ago to address the lowest-scoring NCAA numbers in decades, haven’t stuck.
* Zones are popular, and often difficult to penetrate quickly.
* Scouting is more sophisticated. Innovations like Synergy Sports Technology allow coaches easy access to video clips focusing on an opponent’s specific tendencies, like how it executes the pick-and-roll.
* The transient nature of players – one-and-done freshmen and even graduate transfers – means less continuity within a program and logically, less offensive fluidity.
Dan Dakich, the ESPN analyst, wrote last week that basketball coaches haven’t been as innovative as their football counterparts – people like Chip Kelly, who sped football up and used space. I don’t know whether Dakich is right, but there is a sameness to lots of college offense; he cited the pick-and-roll, and it seems you can’t go a game without seeing repetitive, dribble-drive-motion, penetrate and dish.
“Better shooting would help,” says Colorado coach Tad Boyle. “It seems like a lot of the teams in college basketball are running a lot of the same stuff offensively.”
He says there’s carryover in developing defensive game plans because of the sameness and adds, “As coaches, we need to spend more time on skill development in shooters and developing offenses that will allow them to have some success in that offense.”
Two things I’ve noticed about the game – and these could be completely unrelated to the decrease in points:
It used to be a given that if you trailed big – by 15 or 20 points – the only way to get back into it was by playing man-to-man and get stops. Now it’s not uncommon to see a team behind by 18 with eight minutes left and sagging back into zone. Something about that just doesn’t seem right.
Second, it seems increasingly rare that an end-game, one-shot-to-win-it plan goes off as it’s drawn up. Either the timing is off, or the play breaks down and somebody simply jacks up a deep three.
Overall, there’s little doubt that the one-and-done phenomenon has had an effect. As Sean Miller, the Arizona coach, said this week, “When you have the continuity of 120 practices and the off-season, and you come back for a second or third year, everything smooths out.
“Just imagine what college football would be like if their best players were in their program for a year.
“You talk about scoring being down in college basketball. Let Stanley Johnson become a sophomore.”
As for the officiating changes – whistles for hand-checking and arm bars, etc. — that were noticeable early last season, Miller says, “I think we’ve given up on that. It’s back to where it was.”
And where’s it going? My guess is, we’ll see a switch soon from the 35-second shot clock to 30 seconds.
“I do think there’s great momentum for a lower clock,” Brey says.
I’m not sure that’s the answer. If it’s true that offense isn’t fluid and efficient, is shortening the process by five seconds going to help it?
It’s not everybody’s problem. Brey’s Notre Dame team, for instance, is No. 8 in the country in scoring, averaging 81.2 points a game.
“Maybe,” he laughed, “we’re good therapy for college basketball.”
Saturday, Baylor (No. 19) visits No. 15 West Virginia at 9 a.m. on ESPNU and No. 10 Notre Dame, which beat Duke only last week, tries to do it at Cameron Indoor Stadium against the No. 4 Blue Devils on CBS at 10 a.m. Georgetown is at Villanova (No. 7) in a battle of ranked teams on Fox at 11 a.m.
Bill Bradley, Princeton
(vs. Wichita State), 1965 58
Hal Lear, Temple
(vs. SMU), 1956 48
Bill Walton, UCLA
(vs. Memphis), 1973 44
Bob Houbregs, Washington
(vs. LSU), 1953 42
Gail Goodrich, UCLA
(vs. Michigan), 1965 42