INDIANAPOLIS—Coming out of last week’s meeting at the NCAA annual convention in San Antonio, the theme from the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee is this: What a difference a year makes.
When the 2014-15 season ended, scoring in college basketball had dipped for the 14th time in 21 years and had set a six-decade low point for the second time in three years. While the game became more and more physical, the number of fouls called also reached historic lows. Many key constituents, including coaches, commissioners and the Division I Men’s Basketball Oversight and Division I Men’s Basketball Committees, agreed the physical nature of the game needed to be addressed. The Men’s Basketball Rules Committee subsequently approved a comprehensive package of rules changes and officiating directives intended to improve the pace of play, better balance offense with defense and reduce physicality.
“Much of the offseason attention focused on the changes to the shot clock and the restricted area arc, and though those are important, many of us knew the emphasis on enforcing illegal contact on the perimeter and in the post was going to have a greater impact,” said Joseph R. Castiglione, the vice president and director of athletics at the University of Oklahoma and chair of the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee. “The statistical trends show progress has been made. There is a long way to go, but we knew from the beginning this was going to be a process that would take many years to develop the desired consistency we need to achieve. We are more than half way through the regular season and we are encouraged with where we are; now we need to stay the course through the rest of the season, including the tournament.”
With each of the 351 Division I teams having now played a handful of conference games, the statistical trends thus far are holding up to the standards set in the non-conference season. Compared to this point of the 2014-15 season, scoring is up 5.42 points per game, from 67.64 to 73.06. In conference games only, teams are averaging 72.3 points per game, up 5.26 points per game from the same point of the conference season last year. For the full season, possessions are up 3.95 per team per game but in conference games only, that number jumps to 4.15. Additionally, 74 percent of the scoring for the entire season can be attributed to an increase in the pace of play, while 26 percent of the scoring can be attributed to increased offensive efficiency. Fouls per team per game are only up 1.0 from the 2014-15 season, essentially even on a fouls per possession basis. However, fouls called in the month of January have increased by nearly a half-foul compared to December, which may be considered a positive sign that officials are staying committed to the officiating directives with the start of conference play.
“There are some promising trends, particularly with stats such as fouls called and field goal percentage that are tied with our goal to reduce physical play, but we also have to remember we are comparing this year against what was one of the worst offensive statistical seasons in decades,” said Castiglione. “So while we are encouraged, we can’t be satisfied. J.D. Collins, our new national coordinator of officiating, has done an impressive job of communicating clearly and consistently the expectations of the officiating directives. The committee reasserted with J.D. last week that NCAA tournament officials will be selected and advanced based on their consistent application of the directive to reduce physical play.”
The committee used its first in-person meeting since the start of the season to discuss teams in all 32 conferences, and the consensus is this season is drastically different from last.
“Every season presents challenges for the committee with regards to seeding the middle of the field and selecting the final teams for the tournament,” said Castiglione. “Last year was unique in that there was much more clarity than anyone could ever recall at the top of the seed list. We had some idea that was the case at our January meeting last year, and that had become increasingly evident by the time we met in February. When March arrived and we met for our selections meeting, we publicly acknowledged the fact there were eight teams locked in as the one and two seeds. That was unprecedented. Based on what we have seen so far, it doesn’t appear likely it will be happening again this March.
“That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of really good teams. There are. But picking a field right now would be challenging, more so than usual in my opinion. In recent years, more and more teams have challenged themselves in the non-conference portion of the schedule and that is a good thing, not only for evaluating teams for selections, but also for the good of the regular season. Those games are extremely important for our season-long evaluation of teams, so anyone who argues the college basketball regular season isn’t relevant simply isn’t paying close enough attention. And the rest of the regular season is critical as well.”