Play-by-play theater is a recurring feature where I use the comprehensive play-by-play archive from the past three-plus seasons (a total of 17,309 games and counting) to hunt for extreme, and possibly silly, events that have occurred in a college basketball game.
The NCAA keeps tabs on scoreless streaks, but their records are only for one team. These kinds of records are the humiliating kind, often the result of one team being “on” or “good” and the other not. I prefer the victimless record – in this case, how long can two teams go without scoring? Long scoreless stretches by both participants in a game require the intersection of outstanding defense and pathetic offense by both teams. And since it’s only possible for one team to be coached by Kevin O’Neill, it’s rare for two opponents to have these traits.
I had been meaning to do this as the inaugural edition of PBPT this season even before Tennessee and Georgetown put on that doozy of a show last Friday. The question that naturally came up after that game was “How long can two teams refuse to score at the end of the game?” Before we get to that, let’s start with the bigger picture and figure out how long teams can conspire to go scoreless at any point in the game.
Longest scoreless streaks since 2010 season (D-I vs. D-I games only)
1. 7:16, South Alabama vs. Sacramento State (11/15/09, Score: Sacramento State 16, South Alabama 9, from 12:05 to 4:49, 1st half.)
2. 7:01, Northern Illinois vs. Eastern Michigan (3/5/12, Score: Northern Illinois 3, Eastern Michigan 1, from 19:05 to 12:04, 1st half)
3. 6:31, NC Central vs. Savannah State (1/20/10, Savannah State 5, NC Central 4, from 13:56 to 7:25, 1st half)
South Alabama and Sac State strung together a whopping 22 empty possessions in that one, including 11 missed field goals and 13 turnovers.
Now let’s check scoreless streaks from the beginning of the game. It’s rare, but possible, for a game to make it to the first media timeout with a score happening:
Longest scoreless streaks from beginning of game since 2010 season (D-I vs. D-I games only)
Finally, what about the end of game? It takes a special set of circumstances to allow an end of game scoreless streak to happen. The game needs to be either sufficiently close or out of reach to the point that there are few foul shots, and then you need a comedic string of empty possessions.
Longest scoreless streaks to close a game since 2010 season (D-I vs. D-I games only)
Indeed, the Tennessee/Georgetown debacle is the longest observed scoreless streak to end a game since beginning of the 2010 season. The two teams managed to put together 12 scoreless possessions, which included seven missed field goals and six turnovers. It’s a victimless record…unless you consider those in attendance victims.