Friday, February 8, 2013

How much scoring is enough?

Some people claim college basketball is "broken." The basic criticism is that the number of possessions is down, and overall scoring is down. Both of these trends are long-term and continuing. We have more and more games in the 40s and 50s, and more and more outliers like Eastern Michigan's 42-25 win over Northern Illinois (A game in which NIU scored just 4 points in the first half.)

I frankly reject the premise that college basketball is too low scoring. Look at that epitome of ugly basketball, EMU's 42-25 win. That's a total of 67 points, and it was accomplished with 21 field goals and 20 free throws. So the ball went through the hoop 41 times.

There is no other sport where 41 goals scored is considered an abomination of offense. Even if you count just field goals, that's 21 field goals, or one every other minute of game play. Imagine if there were 21 scores in a football game. There's a name for that: arena football. Not a popular sport, and for good reason.

Looking at the box score, Eastern Michigan and NIU played a slow tempo game, with just 52 possessions. But Northern Illinois alone took 61 shots, making just 8 of them. Here's my question: are missed shots boring? I don't really think so. In sports, what you want to keep things interesting is legitimate opportunities to score. The NIU / EMU game had plenty of that: NIU put up 33 three-point shots (and made just one).  The point is, this isn't soccer, where entire games can be played without even legitimate scoring chances. Even in the worst college basketball game, there are an absolute abundance of scoring chances. If 96 shots on goal in 40 minutes of play is too "boring" for you, the problem is yours.

In fact, I've always thought the problem with basketball is that it is too high scoring. This is problem because individual scores are close to inconsequential to the outcome. For this reason, many casual sports fans will joke that they just turn on a basketball game with five minutes to go, because the first 35 minutes are pretty much meaningless. And there's a lot of truth in that. The sport absolutely does not need more scoring chances.

What's really going on here is a stylistic clash. There's an element in college basketball that thinks beautiful offense is running, jumping, and dunking. These people prefer high-possession games with lots of transition offense. There's another element in college basketball that thinks beautiful offense is passing, screening, cutting, and shooting. These people prefer half-court offense.

In my opinion, the beautiful thing about college basketball is that both styles can be successful. The issue is that the fast-break proponents seem to think it's unfair that the half-court teams can beat the fast-break teams. But that's just stupid. The athletes that are good at fast-break offense are often just different than the athletes that are good at half-court offense. And it so happens that a good coach can usually teach his players how to neutralize a team that just wants to run and jump and dunk. Unless you have truly elite, NBA-bound players, a good half-court offense is just way harder to stop than a transition offense. More and more coaches have figured that out. Is that a problem? I think not.

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree with this one.
    The only problem area I see in the half court game is the potential for the game to become overly physical. Think of the New York Knicks in the mid 90s and the goon squads they put on the floor. No one wants to go to a basketball game and see a wrestling match. Fortunately this is an entirely correctable problem as the only thing needed to prevent it is for the refs to blow the whistle. The college game never got as bad as the NBA did in those days of low scoring, post grabbing, and hand checking, but I guess that's always a danger.