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Brian Mull | | November 16, 2015

College basketball: Points, pace and efficiency enjoy early spike

  Butler scored 144 points against The Citadel during the opening weekend of the 2015 season.

We’re 246 games into a college basketball regular season that lasts nearly four months with another 79 games on tap tonight. ESPN’s annual 24-hour hoops marathon carries us past midnight, beyond breakfast and lunch Tuesday culminating with a sensational finale that evening in Chicago where four hoops superpowers clash.

Even though roughly 97 percent of the season remains, it’s never too early for snap analysis about the rules changes implemented this season to reduce physicality and improve pace.

Luckily, college basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy is tracking the change in points per game, efficiency and possessions per game. All three have increased compared to last season. Teams have scored 73.3 points per game, up from 68.5 in 2014-15. Efficiency has also enjoyed a slight uptick, going from 99.1 points per 100 possessions to 100.8 so far this season. The number of possessions per game has increased from 68.5 to 72.0, most of which can be attributed to reducing the shot clock from 35 seconds to 30 seconds.

Butler’s record 144-point outburst against The Citadel boosted the scoring statistics.

And, as expected and instructed, officials are using their whistles. Of the 272 teams who played just one game over the weekend, only eight attempted fewer than 10 free throws while 200 shot 20 or more. In certain cases, a whole bunch more.

Texas and Washington traveled 5,000 miles to Shanghai to commit 62 fouls and shoot 88 free throws. Texas, which lost by six points to ruin coach Shaka Smart’s debut, certainly rues the 17 free throws it missed. Of course Washington let the Longhorns hang around by missing 16 themselves.

UNC-Wilmington set a school record with 51 free throw attempts in a 100-62 romp over Milligan, a Division II program.

Charleston Southern headed west for a two-game road trip against No. 9 Wichita State and Stanford. The Buccaneers committed 69 fouls in the two losses and watched the Shockers and Cardinal shoot 81 free throws. Stanford, on the other hand, shot 81 free throws in two season-opening victories, although coach Johnny Dawkins might want to encourage additional practice at the line this week since his team made less than 60 percent.

Howard coach Kevin Nickelberry planned to spend Monday reviewing video footage of his team’s two losses to UMass and Rutgers and compiling clips of what is considered a foul under the new rules. Granted, both Bison opponents were favored and at home, still that doesn’t ease the sting from the 62 fouls called against them in the two games.

UMass shot 44 free throws in a game Howard led by double digits in the second half but lost by six points. Rutgers shot 46 free throws in a 12-point victory. Nickleberry said he had a team full of frustrated players on the bus ride home. Howard defends in a matchup zone, which typically protects players from fouls, and was among the nation’s leaders in defensive field goal percentage last season, making the inordinate number of fouls even harder for the coach to stomach.

“I need to understand it better,” Nickelberry said. “We don’t know yet how the games are going to be called. Thought the concept was to get better flow to the game. We spent all the preseason working on what we thought the new rules were going to be. It’s obviously an adjustment.”

Nickelberry expects to make strategic adjustments on both sides of the ball, so his best players can remain on the court in crucial moments. He’ll back off some of the aggressive trapping and ball screen defense, and perhaps put in more motion offense to put his players in a better position to draw fouls.

“The referees are just doing what they’re supposed to do, what they’ve been told to do,” Nickelberry said. “It’s frustrating for the players when they think they played good defense and get called for a foul. As coaches and the body of the NCAA we just have to do a better job understanding the new rules.”

It’s probably best to remember the preseason advice of NCAA supervisor of officials J.D. Collins anticipated the early backlash. From the 14-minute 2015-16 Men’s Basketball Instructional Video discussing the rules changes:

“At times the fans and media will not like the number of fouls being called but we must stay the course and call the rules as written in the rule book.”

Adjustments will be made and patience always helps.

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