The Story of the 2014-15 College Basketball Season: Unwatchability

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 13th, 2015

Every college basketball season supplies its share of moments to remember, and in that regard, 2014-15 was no different. We’ll always have the epic regional final between Notre Dame and Kentucky. Coach K’s 1,000th victory at the Garden won’t soon be forgotten, and Peter Hooley’s bid-delivering buzzer-beater for Albany perfectly encapsulated the madness of Championship Week… even before we learned about his emotional story. There was, without a doubt, plenty to cheer about… but those tremendous moments do not mean everything was hunky-dory in college basketball this season. As the game neared its March climax, critics of college basketball’s decreased scoring and slogging tempos found their numbers growing and voices amplified. Despite record-breaking ratings for the Final Four and March Madness, the “watchability” of college hoops was called into question unlike ever before.

Virginia Was One Of Many Slow-Tempo Teams To Thrive In 2014-15 (AP)

Virginia Was One of Many Slow-Tempo Teams to Thrive in 2014-15. (AP)

“You’ve got three kids passing on the perimeter. With 10 seconds on the shot clock, they try to make something happen and two other kids stand around. They don’t look for anything and then run back on defense, so there’s no transition game because two out of five or three out of five or in some cases four out of five kids aren’t involved in the play. It’s uglier than ugly, and it’s evidenced by the scoring going down.”

— Mark Cuban, Owner – Dallas Mavericks, April 8

The Mavericks’ outspoken owner was just one of the most prominent – and recent – voices to lament the current state of the college game, but he was far from alone – and with fair reason: Putting points on the scoreboard proved to be a universally excruciating task. Teams averaged a smidgen over 67 points per contest this season – the lowest team scoring average in over 60 years. The nation’s leader scorer – Eastern Washington’s Tyler Harvey – averaged 23.1 points per game; no national scoring leader had averaged fewer than 25.0 points per game since 1949. The six most efficient offensive teams in college basketball averaged 63.7 possessions per game; if those six merged into one unit, it would be the 233rd-fastest playing group in the land. Recent rule changes intended to enhance offensive freedom, quicken tempos and improve overall efficiency have quite clearly flopped. Points are at an all-time premium, with tempos nearing historic lethargy.

Cuban’s rant focused on the dearth of coherent offense, but some of the public’s accusations of unwatchability extended beyond the ball not going through the hoop. The long halftimes and extended media timeouts of the NCAA Tournament helped fill organizational coffers with buckets of advertising money, but at a significant cost to the viewer experience. Monitor reviews in the last two minutes of play have aided referees in making crucial rulings (usually…), but the late-game parade to the scorer’s table also turned important moments into a series of orchestrated set-pieces. Referees have also been criticized for a generally inconsistent whistle, one that has only aided in physical play and choppy tempos. Cuban wondered aloud how college refs might do in the restaurant industry, declaring them unfit to “manage a White Castle.”

With a long and potentially transformative offseason ahead, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany recently said that he sees college basketball at a tipping point. He isn’t wrong. It’s hard to deny the degradation of the quality of basketball on the floor, but even more difficult is ignoring the growing faction of fans who are convinced that it’s happening. The NCAA appears to be listening, having implemented some rule changes during the NIT (a 30-second shot clock and expanded restricted area arc) that will be considered as permanent changes later this offseason. Given the unhappy cacophony of voices around the game, these modifications stand a good chance of acceptance. That means that while you may not have known it when you were watching Cincinnati and Nebraska score 111 total points in a double-overtime game on December 13 (yup, that’s 50 minutes of basketball), this slow, grinding season may yet have a happy (read: more watchable) ending. And if the rule changes fail to get through, we’ll just have to take solace in the knowledge delivered to us by the Irish and Wildcats: 57-possession games are sometimes worth watching.

BHayes (244 Posts)

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