If you watched one game on Saturday, I’m guessing it was Kentucky’s 103-100 win over North Carolina. But if you watched other games you probably saw a lot of points being scored in those contests as well. Looking at all days since the 2000 season where at least 50 games were played, Saturday featured more scoring than any of them.
Highest scoring average by day (min 50 games, since 2000 season)
1 12/17/16 75.43 2 11/16/15 75.33 3 11/12/13 74.05 4 11/17/00 74.04 5 11/19/16 73.99
The top of this list is dominated by days in November, when tempo is at its highest and officials are a little more whistle-happy. Occasionally, a February day breaks through as shooting improves and turnovers decrease, driving efficiency increases later in the season that can compensate for the lack of possessions. December, though, is typically a month associated with scoring doldrums. The second-highest scoring December day from this millennium is 12/21/991 at 73.61.
This list might leave you wanting more since it doesn’t tell us the last day that had a higher scoring average than Saturday. What if it was some day in like, 1948? That would be exciting. Well, thanks to the data that Kenneth Massey generously makes available on his site, I can report that date is February 19, 1996 when an average of 75.94 points were scored by teams playing in 52 games on that Monday night.
That ’96 season was really the inflection point towards a slower era of college hoops. Scoring average dropped by 1.7 points from the ’95 season to 72.5 points per game and it would drop another 1.4 points per game in the ’97 season. The 1996 scoring average wasn’t approached again until last season, and it should be breached this season, as teams have averaged 72.9 so far.
Unfortunately, the details of what happened on that high-scoring February evening are trapped in microfiche at a library near you, so a direct comparison to what happened then is not possible. But we do know that points in 1996 were accumulated differently that they were on Saturday. That was just one season removed from the year in which the national champion, UCLA, took 16.4 percent of its shots from three-point range, a figure exceeded by all 351 teams in each of the past four seasons.
Saturday’s outburst wasn’t slow at all by modern standards: Teams averaged 70.7 possessions per 40 minutes. It was driven by a fast pace and shooting accuracy that was above average even by the high standards of the current era. In 3,725 minutes of action, players made 1,395 of 3,800 three-point attempts, for a 36.7% clip. That’s about what the 100th-best team is shooting on the season to date. Those teams also made 49.9% of their twos compared to the 49.0% rate averaged for this season and the 48.3% shot in the ’96 season.
Another factor in higher point totals was fouls. On Saturday, 19.5 fouls were called per 40 minutes, slightly higher than the season average of 19.4. However, that number is trending down fast as the season continues. Saturday’s foul rate was the highest for an individual day since November 28.
Perhaps the best way to put Saturday into perspective is a table. Since the 2001-02 season, there have been 553 days where at least 50 games have been played. Here’s where Saturday’s key statistical categories ranked among those 553:
Stat Value Rank 3P% 36.7 12 2P% 49.9 8 FT% 70.9 42 3PA% 35.4 35 Poss/40 70.7 55 PF/40 19.5 34
A lot of things were well-above average for the past 16 seasons, and with respect to shooting accuracy and fouls, above average for this season. The confluence of those things resulted in scoring combustion that hasn’t been seen for 20 years.
|^1||Yep, that’s not technically in this millennium, but for our purposes it exists in the 2000 season.|