Why Geno's (Mostly) Wrong about NCAAM

Geno Auriemma offered some harsh criticism about the state of men's college basketball. Why is he right and why is he wrong?

Anyone watching college basketball right now will tell you that they regret the lack of scoring, as Geno Auriemma did recently. The average team this season scored just 67.4 points per game, and only 12 of 60 NCAA Tourney games have featured two teams who both scored 70 points or more.

Some will point to the lack of shooting. A lot of coaches - perhaps most notably Rick Pitino - have found success recruiting great athletes to play great defense and scrape by on offense. Look at the teams in the Final Four - Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Michigan State all make their names on defense.

Meanwhile, when you look at the teams who have had the most recent success at the NBA level, you find teams who score in bunches. The Spurs led the NBA in three-point percentage last season. Before them, the Heat, Mavs, and Lakers all featured dynamic scorers. So why the disconnect?

Well, before we answer that question, let's make sure it's really valid. After all, when you really look at statistics, you see that scoring isn't actually down on a per-possession basis. The median college basketball team scores 1.24 points per shot, which is even better than the NBA (1.2).

However, there's no question it feels like players can't score anymore. So the real question is this: why do we feel this way?

The answer, unfortunately, is that college teams are scoring in efficient and somewhat boring ways. Because of the foul rules in college basketball (each team shoots free throws after 7 fouls per half), college teams are shooting a massive number of free throws. The median team shoots 20.2 per game, 36.6 percent of the number of field goals the average team takes (55.1). In the NBA, where supposedly everyone flops, players shoot just 22.8 free throws per game - despite the fact that pace is way faster and the games are longer. This number is just 27.4 percent of the total field goal attempts per game an NBA team averages.

At the same time, college teams are taking advantage of the closer three-point line to jack a huge number of tough deep shots. The average college team takes 18.4 threes per game (33.6 percent of their total field goal attempts), while the average NBA team takes just 22.2 (26.7 percent). And though the median college team actually shoots the long ball at a slightly more efficient rate (35.4 percent) than the median NBA team (34.6 percent), the fact remains that they're missing 64.6 percent of those attempts, which means a lot of bricks.

So, college teams are taking a bunch of the most boring shot in the game (free throws) and the shot they're most likely to miss (three-pointers). As a result, even though they're scoring efficiently, the median college team only makes about 24 field goals per game.

And that's the real difference, because the average NBA team makes about 37.5 field goals per game - 56 percent more than the average college team, despite the fact that the game is only 20 percent longer (48 minutes to 40).

So why is that? Well, the answer's pretty simple: it's all about pace. You see, though the game is only 20 percent longer, the shot clock of the collegiate men's game is 35 seconds, compared to the 24 seconds of the NBA (and the 30 seconds of women's basketball). Because of the shortened shot clock, even if both teams in an NBA game held the ball for a shot clock violation for the entirety of the game, they would combine to have 120 possessions in regulation. If two college teams did that, they'd only have 68.6 possessions. That's not a perfect comparison, because no one would ever just take a shot clock violation every possession, but that difference is huge.

The answer to more scoring then, is simply to up the pace. However, there are two problems with that. Firstly, a lot of veteran coaches value a slow-down, gritty pace. You see a guy like Bo Ryan, whose Wisconsin Badgers score more efficiently than any other team in college, emphasizing that the team play at a slower pace than most teams so as to help the defense. Meanwhile, the Golden State Warriors play faster than anyone else in the league, using their offensive and defensive efficiency to increase their average point differential - probably the most important stat in any sport.

Secondly, in every game in every sport ever, there's one team that's better than the other team. Usually, the team that's worse understands this, and so they will slow down the game as much as possible in order to stay in a game for as long as possible. So, Kentucky is handcuffed by playing at the slow pace of Notre Dame, because they'd blow out a fast-pace team (*cough* West Virginia *cough*).

So Geno's right and wrong. People aren't scoring very much, as far as in volume. But they are scoring efficiently.



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