Points, glorious points. That is the takeaway from the first weekend of college basketball. Scoring is up 7% over the first weekend last season. Pace is up 5% and efficiency is up 2%. It’s not 1975-style basketball, but for at least one weekend we turned the clock back to 1995 when it wasn’t unusual to see a team crack 100 on the daily scoreboard.
There are only three days worth of games on the books, but already we have a decent idea of how the new rules are affecting college basketball. After all, there have been 183 games involving two D-I teams. That would be like your favorite team playing about five season’s worth of games, and even this early, the data has a lot of value in predicting final season numbers.
Here then are the most notable differences between this season and last, based on the first weekend of play.
1. More fouls are being called
The officials are going to crack down on contact and this time they mean it. (Maybe.) So far this season there have been 22.0 fouls called on each team per game. Last season’s first weekend had 20.2 fouls per team/game, and two seasons ago had 21.5. So fouls are clearly up and partly responsible for the increase in scoring.
2. More 3’s are being shot
So far this season, 36.3% of field goal attempts have been 3-pointers. If it held up, that number would easily surpass the current record of 34.4% set in the 2007-08 season. Typically, there isn’t much of a season-long trend in 3-point attempts. The full-season numbers tend to be close to what you see the first weekend. Given that we are so far above the long-term norms, it’s reasonable to expect this number to drop a bit, if anything. But even with a small correction, it appears this will be the Year of the 3. Is this because more teams are having to rush 3’s late in the shot clock? It doesn’t seem that way, because…
3. Three-point accuracy isn’t suffering.
Since 2002, three-point accuracy has existed in a narrow range from 33.9% to 35.1% in any given season. This season, accuracy appears to way down, with just 32.2% of three-point attempts finding the bottom of the net. But there is no reason to be alarmed. Players always struggle shooting the ball the first weekend. This season’s figure is almost exactly the average of the last five seasons. Keep trying, kids. It will get better.
3P% last five seasons Thru Full Season 3 days Season 2011 33.2 34.4 2012 32.2 34.3 2013 31.2 33.9 2014 31.7 34.5 2015 32.5 34.3 2016 32.2 ???
This is perhaps another indication that the offense is in control of 3-point shooting. Is it plausible that 3-point defense is really getting worse as the season goes on? It’s more likely shooters start out rusty, having not played against a real defense for a few months.
4. Two-point shooting is better.
Two-point shooting is at 48.2% nationally which if it finished that way would be the fourth-highest mark in the past 15 seasons. However, 2-point shooting typically shows a modest improvement as the season progress. The effect is not nearly as predictable as 3-point shooting, but in foul-happy 2014, teams made 48.0% of their 2’s during the first weekend and the final number ended up at 48.5%, the second-highest on record.
The worst fears of a shorter shot clock have yet to materialize. There were even a few huge upsets this weekend despite the thought that increased possessions would give the better team an advantage. Monmouth, Radford, and Western Illinois say hello.
I suppose the wild card is the foul rate. It will decrease as it does every season, but will that decrease be the result of officials suffering from whistle fatigue or players adjusting? If it’s more of the latter, then you’ll have a much higher-scoring, and dare I say, more exciting game that we’ve seen in recent seasons.
The foul issue is one reason why you can shorten the shot clock and not see offensive efficiency suffer. Defenders still only have five fouls to give, but now they have to be on the floor for more possessions. They can’t contest as many things as they did in the dead ball era. This will naturally give the offense more freedom at the margins.
There’s a lot of season left to be played, but the first weekend numbers are meaningful and they indicate the sport is much better off with the new rules.