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David Worlock | | March 4, 2016

College basketball: Rule changes result in improved offensive numbers

INDIANAPOLIS—With the regular season’s finish line in sight, the verdict is in as to whether or not positive statistical trends seen in Division I men’s basketball earlier this season would hold up once March arrived. The 2015-16 season has seen a significant increase in scoring, possessions, points per possession and shooting percentages.

However, concerns about the sustainability and consistency of new playing rules and officiating directives led many stakeholders to withhold judgment on the gains of the season.

The data delivered in the month of February was essentially the same as in December: scoring dipped just one percent, possessions down marginally by 1.7 percent, and yet points per possession actually ticked up 1.7 percent.

Equally as important, fouls called trended up by 1.2 percent from December to February, which contributed to the goal of season-long consistency in reducing physical play to create greater freedom of movement.

“I am particularly encouraged by the month-to-month statistical trends this year, as the progress made in the game has been sustained and consistent from the non-conference to the conference seasons,” said Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s vice president of men’s basketball championships.

“Based on the past, there was justifiable skepticism that the improvements in November and December would not be maintained once the competiveness and familiarity of conference play came in January and February.

“But the monthly data suggests that not only have we not experienced slippage in the officiating directives, fouls called are up slightly as we enter March indicating a resolve to maintain season-long consistency. Hopefully that has been a contributing factor in offensive efficiency improving over the last three months to a season-high in points per possession. The players, coaches and officials continue to adjust well to the new playing rules and officiating directives, and the game is improving as a result. It’s year one and there’s a long way to go, but I’m optimistic about the direction of this season”

Through Thursday’s games, teams are scoring 73.1 points per game, up from 67.6 from a season ago. Possessions are up from 65.8 a year ago to 70.0 and points per possession have increased from 1.028 to 1.043. Field goal percentage has improved (43.5 to 44.1 percent), as has three-point shooting (34.5 to 34.7 percent) and free throw shooting (69.2 to 69.8 percent). Meanwhile, the number of fouls called per game has risen from 18.2 to 19.3.

Teams are making 25.53 and shooting 57.96 field goals per game, which is the most in both categories in 20 years. The all-time record for most three-pointers made per team per game is 6.72 and the record for most three-pointers attempted is 19.07, both established in 2008. The current numbers are 7.11 and 20.47, meaning there is a great chance both of those records will be broken.

“I think the most telling note is the vast majority of the scoring increase is directly attributed to more made two-point and three-point baskets,” said J.D. Collins, the NCAA’s national coordinator of officiating. “While there has been an increase in the number of fouls and foul shots, only about 16 percent of the increase in scoring is related to additional made free throws. The officiating directives are helping to improve the game without making it a competition staged at the foul line.”

The goals of the rules changes and officiating points of emphasis were to improve the pace of play, better balance offense with defense and reduce physicality to create freedom of movement on the court. While there is evidence those goals are being met as the regular season finishes, there is still an important step to take.

“We have to finish the job,” said Collins. “We communicated with every Division I official that they will be selected for and advanced in the NCAA Tournament based on their adjudication of the rules as written and their enforcement of the directive to reduce physicality. That certainly will be the case. It’s extremely important to stay the course through the end of the postseason.”

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