Ten Tuesday (or Wednesday!) Scribbles: On Scoring, Rule Changes, Syracuse and More…Posted by Brian Otskey on February 27th, 2013
Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey
- Much has been made about the decline in scoring in college basketball over the last decade. These days, it is very common to see games played in the 60s, 50s or even 40s in some instances. It is true that scoring has decreased substantially over the last 10 years and the numbers bear it out. In the 2002-03 season, 172 teams averaged at least 70.0 PPG. That number has steadily declined, falling to 145 five seasons ago and 111 this year. With the advent of advanced statistics, one in particular stands out. Ten years ago, 123 teams averaged an adjusted tempo of 70.0 possessions per game. That was cut in half by 2007-08 (62 teams) and the number has continued to decline even since then. This season, only 28 of America’s 347 Division I teams play at that pace or greater. Why is this happening? Pace is certainly a factor but there are other issues at play here. With the proliferation of television coverage and video based scouting programs such as Synergy Sports Technology, scouting and video material is more available than ever. Head coaches and their staffs know everything about an opponent and that makes a huge difference for a lot of teams on the defensive end. A lot of teams run the same sets and it’s simply easier to prepare when you see the same thing over and over again. The elephant in the room, however, is the talent level in college basketball. Most of us probably wouldn’t like to admit it but the talent level has noticeably dipped in our sport over the last decade. I’m not talking about a once in 20 years type of player like Kevin Durant but the overall depth of talent in the game. There’s a reason a lot of people are saying this year’s NBA Draft class could be the weakest ever. That’s because it is. Until college basketball gets a much-needed infusion of talent, low scoring games will remain the norm.
- A lot of people would like to see the so-called “one-and-done” rule fade to black and that got me thinking about some much-needed rule changes in college basketball. I’m not going to discuss the one-and-done here, I’m talking about changes that need to be made during the actual games. If I had the power, the first thing I’d do is shorten the shot clock to 30 seconds. Five seconds may not sound like a lot but since there are roughly 66 to 67 possessions in an average Division I game, that would translate into another 10 possessions per game. Immediately you’d see an increase in scoring which makes the game more attractive to fans. One thing that annoys me is the amount of timeouts and stoppages in the game. There are already four mandated media timeouts every half and each team gets a total of five timeouts per game. In an era when coaches rarely leave timeouts on the table, there are 18 different timeouts in a typical college game, an average of one every two minutes and 13 seconds. It hurts the flow of a game in a big way and my proposal would be to reduce the number of timeouts to three per team and no extras in overtime. The end of every college basketball game these days seems to include a multitude of timeouts, fouls and official reviews. Officials reviewing plays has helped many sports get calls right, including college basketball. However, officials are abusing the monitor more than ever before. A big reason why is the NCAA rule change a few years ago regarding flagrant fouls and elbows thrown. I get why this rule was implemented (player safety) but there is no evidence this rule acts as a deterrent. Players have been taught from a young age to clear space with your elbows when being pressured by a defender. Now, a loose elbow can be deemed a flagrant foul even if there was no intent to injure by the offending player. This has to change. I have absolutely no problem with calling a flagrant foul for a malicious elbow or other physical contact. But calling a flagrant for an innocent or accidental elbow is wrong and is another thing that contributes to college games that lack an entertaining flow. A couple other changes I’d make include not resetting the 10-second count in the backcourt after a timeout, not being able to inbound the ball into the backcourt (it’s a bailout move for a team without a quality inbounds play) and starting the 1-and-1 bonus at nine fouls instead of seven. What are your thoughts on some of these proposals?
- This time of year, bubble talk dominates the discussion. My way of looking at bubble teams is simple: Did you beat quality opponents and what have you done away from home? This approach is one Jay Bilas mentions on television every year, something I wholeheartedly agree with. I remember years ago when Bilas went on ESPN and said something like, “Bubble teams have all proven they can lose. The question is, who did you beat and where did you beat them?” Truer words have never been spoken. You can’t dismiss all losses but when we’re talking about bubble teams, we’re usually looking at teams that have lost anywhere from 9 to 12 games, sometimes more. When I look at this year’s group of bubble teams, a few stand out. Minnesota is only 7-8 in Big Ten play but has multiple quality wins over Memphis (neutral), Illinois (away), Wisconsin (home), Michigan State (home) and last night’s massive upset of Indiana at the Barn on its resume. All of that trumps Minnesota’s loss to Northwestern and should get the Golden Gophers into the Big Dance. Staying in the Big Ten, Illinois is in the same boat and I believe the Illini have done enough to warrant a bid at this point. Villanova is an interesting team. The Wildcats have a high number of losses (11) but wins at Connecticut and home versus Louisville and Syracuse have them in the NCAA discussion. I think Villanova is an NCAA-worthy team but the Wildcats need to do more to earn a bid because a pair of bad losses on their resume hurt the cause. Teams like St. Mary’s are harder to quantify. The Gaels have just one top 50 win (home vs. Creighton) on their resume and a pair of bad losses to Pacific and Georgia Tech. When a team wins a number of games against poor competition as St. Mary’s has, it’s very hard to determine if they’re NCAA-worthy. I think the Gaels are, but their resume leaves a lot to be desired. Beating Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament would prove to everyone that they deserve a spot.
- One of the more impressive performances from Saturday’s action was New Mexico going into Fort Collins and knocking off Colorado State behind 46 points from Kendall Williams. The Lobos are now in the Mountain West driver’s seat, two games clear of the Rams with the tiebreaker in hand thanks to the season sweep. This is a very talented team that has established itself as the class of what was a muddled Mountain West picture. New Mexico has won 10 of 12 since its loss to St. Louis on New Year’s Eve. The Lobos are a terrific defensive club because they shut down the paint. Their guards do a nice job cutting off penetration while the back line is anchored by Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow. One often overlooked statistic is defensive rebounding and New Mexico excels there as well. Rebounding is the last thing you do on defense to close out a possession and the Lobos do it very well. Teams often settle for threes against New Mexico because they can’t penetrate and score inside effectively. I like Steve Alford’s chances in the NCAA Tournament but the fatal flaw on this team is its shooting. At just 41.5% from the floor, New Mexico is vulnerable to a team that can cut off penetration and force it to take jump shots. A nightmare matchup for the Lobos would be a team that plays a physical, half court brand of basketball without fouling much (New Mexico gets just over 1 out of every 4 points from the line, the third highest percentage in the nation). A team like Wisconsin comes to mind as one that could really throw the Lobos off their game. That said, New Mexico remains a team capable of making a run in March depending on the matchups.
- The last Georgetown/Syracuse game at the Carrier Dome featured another incredible individual performance on Saturday. Georgetown’s Otto Porter scored 33 of his teams 57 points in leading the Hoyas to a huge road victory over their archrivals. Sikeston, MO is best known as the hometown of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers great James Wilder but this silky smooth sophomore forward from Georgetown will be just as well known in short order. Only a sophomore, the do-it-all stat sheet stuffer is the clear frontrunner for Big East Player of the Year honors and has led his team to the top of the conference standings with just two weeks to play. Five-tool player is a term reserved for baseball but not many would disagree if someone used the term to describe Porter. He does it all from scoring and making threes to defending, rebounding and leading. Who know if he’ll decide to go pro after this season but all I know is that college basketball fans would be thrilled to see him return to Georgetown and continue to excel for a top flight team.
- In its loss to Georgetown, Syracuse’s first home loss this season, the Orange were exposed. Syracuse has now lost two in a row and five out of nine after Monday night’s defeat at Marquette. Syracuse is a very good team but from what I’ve seen, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it fall early in the NCAA Tournament. Syracuse lacks a strong offensive paint presence and often relies on jump shots from Brandon Triche, C.J. Fair and James Southerland to fall, as well as Michael Carter-Williams getting in the paint and finishing. As a result, Syracuse can struggle in the half court when the shots don’t fall. Triche and Carter-Williams can be inconsistent, especially Carter-Williams. He is not a high percentage shooter and SU’s offense works best when he is facilitating rather than shooting. Fair is Syracuse’s best shooter and he needs to get more shots at the expense of Carter-Williams and even Triche, who is really struggling from three point land this season. Syracuse thrives on transition baskets and it won’t get as many of those in the NCAA’s where the games are played in the half court at a slower pace. Sitting back in Jim Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone doesn’t help matters either, although Syracuse is very active in that zone (much more so than other teams who use it). Fewer run-outs and a slower pace mean the Orange have to make jump shots to win games. The shots don’t always fall and I feel that will eventually be Syracuse’s downfall in the first round or two. Of course, it depends on matchups. Just don’t be surprised if the Orange bow out earlier than expected. The Georgetown game was a blueprint and other coaches around the country will use it to their advantage against a team that has struggled away from the friendly confines of the Carrier Dome.
- You can make a strong argument that no team has improved over the course of the season as much as Michigan State. The Spartans are definitely a Final Four contender but I’d like to pump the brakes a bit before I totally buy in to Tom Izzo (a risky proposition, I know) and his team. The problems with Michigan State have not changed. This is a team that turns it over too much, doesn’t shoot the ball all that well and doesn’t always get the best play out of the players it needs to succeed in order to make a deep March run. Lord knows people have doubted Michigan State before and been proven wrong but I’m very hesitant to go all-in with this group of Spartans. Is it a team that can make it to Atlanta and possibly win a national title? Of course. But until I see more consistent play from Keith Appling, Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix, I just can’t do it. In addition to the turnovers and poor perimeter shooting, one thing that concerned me in the loss to Ohio State was the way Michigan State defended Aaron Craft. Why were the Spartans up in his grill all game, daring him to drive around them and score? When you defend a guy like Craft, you have to sag off of him and make him make jump shots. Michigan State didn’t do that and got burned big time.
- After watching Indiana and Florida go down on Tuesday night, I’m more convinced than at any point in this season that there is truly no great team or heavy favorite for the NCAA Tournament. For a while I had thought it might be Indiana but the Hoosiers’ loss at what was a struggling Minnesota team has put that thought to rest, at least for now. I do believe that Indiana has yet to reach its potential and I would say it has been the most consistent team to date in 2012-13. Is Indiana the best team? Probably. The Hoosiers have the nation’s best offense and a highly respectable defense that has improved by leaps and bounds over last year’s outfit which made the Sweet Sixteen and lost a competitive game to the juggernaut that was Kentucky. Indiana features a pair of Player of the Year candidates, is experienced, rebounds, gets to the foul line well and can make threes at a high rate. The ability to win road games in tough environments is what sets great teams apart from good teams. Indiana has done that by winning at Michigan State and Ohio State, as well as knocking off Georgetown on a neutral floor. In order for the Hoosiers to reach their full potential, they have to cut down the turnovers and Christian Watford has to play big in every game from here on out. When Watford is on, Indiana is awfully tough to beat. I don’t think anyone can say there is a clear favorite for the national title but I’d still lean on Indiana. All of that said however, I don’t think anyone can say that Indiana (or any other team) is truly elite and a heavy national championship favorite.
- Just when I bought in to Memphis and ranked the Tigers on my RTC Top 25 ballot this week, they go out and lose at Xavier. That’s not a horrid loss by any stretch but it’s a game a top 25 team should win more often than not. This isn’t a vintage Xavier team and that loss leaves a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths. Memphis had won 18 straight games prior to last night’s loss but its best wins in that stretch were a pair over Southern Mississippi and a road win at a Tennessee team that was not playing well at the time the game was played. While Xavier is not ranked, it should be noted that Josh Pastner is 0-11 against ranked teams in his tenure at the school. Until the Tigers beat somebody better than them, the questions will continue to linger. This is a team that turns it over way too much for my liking (15 per game) but does have some talented pieces. The Tigers will probably get in the NCAA Tournament if they fail to win the Conference USA Tournament but they’d be well advised to leave no doubt and win the thing. One more loss before Selection Sunday will give the doubters even more ammunition. Honestly, I can’t blame them. Memphis needs to show us something before we buy in.
- I mentioned that Tennessee wasn’t playing well when Memphis beat it in Knoxville on January 4. My, how things have changed. Tennessee now stands at 17-10 (9-6 SEC) after last night’s huge upset victory over Florida. The Volunteers are 6-0 since starting SEC play 3-6 and have three very winnable games still to play. If Tennessee can take care of business at Georgia and Auburn, that will set up a showdown against Missouri next Saturday in Knoxville with a chance to finish SEC play at 12-6 and likely earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Florida win was so critical because Tennessee only had home wins against Wichita State and Kentucky on its resume. A bad home loss to Georgia really stings so the Vols still have work to do. If they can get it done and win out, it will be a remarkable achievement. Jordan McRae (27 points vs. Florida), Jarnell Stokes and Trae Golden have kicked it into high gear for Cuonzo Martin, who is making these late season charges somewhat of a habit. Tennessee started 2-5 in SEC play last year before winning 8 of its final 9 games, although it eventually lost in the first round of the conference tournament and did not hear its name called on Selection Sunday. Will this year be different? After last night, Tennessee has put itself in position to control its own destiny. Anything is possible down the stretch.