College basketball on the clock
Scoring is down, making baskets is a struggle and the pace of play is labored at times. College basketball, many agree, needs a shot of energy on offense.
In conference games, only two Missouri Valley Conference teams are scoring more than 70 points a game and six are under 60. In the previous 10 seasons, five teams finished with scoring averages under 60 points.
While there is time to change, other indicators, nationally, such as pace of play and shooting percentages also show offenses are struggling this season, continuing a trend interrupted last season. In 2013-14, teams averaged 71 points (most since 2002) and made 44.2 percent of their shots (best since 2007). This season, teams are scoring 68.7 points and shooting 43.4 percent from the field.
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Missouri Valley Conference coaches vary in their concern for the appeal of the game, one in which fans are more likely to see a 55-52 grind as opposed to an 80-77 affair.
“I don’t think it needs to be fixed,” Loyola coach Porter Moser said. “The defenses are way up. Going into conference play, nine out of 10 Missouri Valley teams held their opponents to 43-percent shooting or less. That’s tremendous.”
The MVC ranks 26th among the 32 conferences by averaging 65.5 points. It is eighth in shooting percentage (44.2) and fifth in three-point accuracy (35.6). The Big Ten (71.8 points) and Big 12 (71.2) are scoring more, but not shooting much better, or as well, as MVC teams. Big Ten teams make 45 percent of their shots and 35.4 percent of their threes; Big 12 teams are at 44.1 percent and 34.5.
“I don’t know that I’m overly concerned,” Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said. “Sometimes you get concerned, maybe, about the perception of your league. When you look around the country, I think most leagues, if not all leagues, the scoring is down. I think you see it in almost every league. I think our games have been really good and really hard-fought.”
Lowering the shot clock from 35 seconds to 30 (used by the women’s game) or the NBA’s 24 seconds (also used internationally) are ideas discussed as fix for slow play and low scores. Bradley coach Geno Ford sees value in bringing the men’s game in line with other levels.
“I probably would more in favor of 30 than 24, because it would still give you a chance to run some offense,” Ford said. “Twenty-four-second shot clock, you’re going to get one quick screening action and then you’re going to hoist a jumper. We went from no shot clock to a 45-second shot and that was going to be the death of the game. Then we went to 35. It’s probably time to take it to 30.”
Jacobson sees a shorter shot clock forcing teams and coaches to develop more plays for late-clock situations and try to score more aggressively on out-of-bound plays.
“You’re going to have more opportunities, you’re going to have more situational things,” he said. “Those things, tied together, can open up the game a little There’s going to be more possessions and guys are going to be forced to be more creative.”
There are other ways to help offenses and improve the aesthetics of the game. The NCAA tried to limit physical contact last season through officiating changes designed to give scorers more freedom of movement. It appeared to work, but officials also appeared to return to previous ways later in the season. Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall likes 35 seconds because it gives his team time to make an initial thrust at scoring and run a few seconds of offense, if necessary, before a final play as the shot click ticks away.
“I’ve done some international tours where they play with a 24-second clock and that’s kind of quick for me,” he said. “We need to teach skills at the lower levels. There would be less of an outcry about what’s going on in the lower levels if we just taught skills instead of just rolling the balls out at the lower levels. I also think the game is very physical. It’s become that way. It’s harder to score because of all the physicality. It’s hard to make shots because of all the physicality.”
▪ Northern Iowa ranks No. 7 nationally in scoring defense (54.7 points) and is allowing 47.8 points in six MVC games. MVC teams are shooting 34.2 percent from the field against the Panthers. Jacobson’s mission to return defense to the front of his team’s identity is a success.
Indiana State will try to solve that man-to-man puzzle in a battle of second-place teams on Wednesday in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
“They’re as well-prepared and well-put together defensively as anyone in the country,” Lansing said. “They’re never easy to score against.”
While the Panthers play at a slow pace, Lansing respects their ability to go fast when guards Deon Mitchell and Wes Washpun grab a turnover or rebound.
“They really are good in transition, because they’ve got, in Mitchell and Washpun, two guys who can really get at the basket and then they’ve got those three-point shooters spotting up,” he said. “They make you guard. They pass up good shots to get great shots.”
▪ Indiana State guard Brenton Scott is just the third freshman to win MVC Newcomer of the Week honors in what is usually a transfer-heavy award this season. Scott averaged 17 points in games against Drake and Illinois State last week, making 11 of 22 shots and six three-pointers. Illinois State’s Deontae Hawkins (who hasn’t played since Dec. 31 entering Tuesday’s game at Drake due to injury) and MiKyle McIntosh are the other freshmen to win the award.
▪ Southern Illinois guard Anthony Beane scored 15 of his 20 points in the final eight minutes of Sunday’s 59-52 win over Loyola at SIU Arena. He made 6 of 7 shots, perhaps climbing out of a dreadful slump. With Beane struggling, SIU lost seven straight games.
“He scored 20 points on seven shots (Sunday) — and, first of all, that’s a great stat,” SIU coach Barry Hinson said. “What he did defensively (Sunday) was probably most important. We just told all of our guys to lose yourself in the game defensively and quit worry about what’s going on offensively.”
Beane entered Sunday’s game 27 percent from the field and 3 for 34 from three-point range in the seven losses. He missed his lone three-pointer against Loyola and is 1 for 26 in six MVC games. The Salukis play Bradley on Wednesday and travel to Evansville on Saturday hoping to build momentum.
“I don’t think people in the Valley have seen our team play yet,” Hinson said. “I think that’s the good news for us. We have not shot the ball well. The telltale sign to me has always been: Can you back up a win and then can you go get a road win? We’ll know a lot more about our basketball team when this week is over.”
▪ Loyola is 3-3 in the MVC entering Wednesday’s game against Evansville. The Ramblers, however, have yet to win back-to-back games in their two seasons as an MVC member.
Drake — This may be Drake’s only shot to earn this slot, so give the Bulldogs their props for knocking Indiana State out of its share of first place on Saturday. The Bulldogs also led Loyola with four minutes to play before losing 50-47. If they are showing life, it’s because guard Gary Ricks Jr is leading the way with 24 points against Loyola and 23 against Indiana State. He made 12 of 21 three-pointers in the two games.
Missouri State — The Bears are losers of four straight and face No. 14 Wichita State on Wednesday. Leading scorer Marcus Marshall is no longer on the team and the Bears, picked third in the preseason poll, are fighting to stay out of last place.
Get to know an MVC neighbor
Q: Gene Keady (former Purdue and Hutchinson Community College coach, Kansas State athlete and Larned native) sent how many assistant coaches to the MVC?
A: Five — Paul Lusk and Cuonzo Martin at Missouri State, Matt Painter and Bruce Weber at Southern Illinois and Kevin Stallings at Illinois State.
One to watch
Indiana State (9-9, 5-1) at No. 20 Northern Iowa (16-2, 5-1), 7 p.m. Wednesday (FSKC) — The Sycamores needed to split on their Iowa trip and losing 84-78 at Drake is a bad way to start. Giving up 84 points to a team that hadn’t scored more than 47 in its four previous games is another bad sign.