Here’s a question. What’s the least entertaining play in basketball? Not a turnover. Not a missed shot. The least entertaining play in basketball is a foul shot.
Think about it. Basketball is this wondrous game with tremendous athletes. Players run and jump and glide and explode all over the court, some at breakneck speed, other times with more control, but often with a fluidity that makes you appreciate the sport as art.
Then the whistle blows, and the action stops. Everyone on the court stands at attention and watches one guy shoot an uncontested 15-foot shot. It’s the basketball equivalent of an intentional walk.
Remember that as we discuss the early returns on the NCAA’s new rules intended to open college basketball. Hand-checking has been reigned in. Offensive freedom is being promoted to help a sport that had fallen into sluggishness. College hoops’ rules committee hoped to increase scoring and free offenses.
And one month into the season, the statistical trends say the committee has achieved its goal.
According to an NCAA news release, “Scoring is up and turnovers are down. Shooting is better. There are more fouls, and more free throws that go with them. The offenses have gotten a helpful breeze – not statistically gale force, but clearly noticeable.”
Here is some of the data. Last season through Dec. 9, teams averaged 55.8 shots per game, this season 57.1. Turnovers, 14.2 last season through Dec. 9, 12.8 this season. And 68.4 points per game through Dec. 9, 73.8 this season.
All good news. All signs that the game indeed is opening.
And the numbers locally are strong. OSU is averaging 90.4 points a game. OU is averaging 86.7 points a game, and Billy Tubbs is long retired. That’s some fun basketball. Certainly better than a 68-61 game.
But there’s one ominous sign. Last season through Dec. 9, teams were called for 17.9 fouls per game. This season, 19.9. Last season through Dec. 9, teams averaged 20.1 foul shots per game. This season, 24.7 foul shots per game.
Uh-oh. That’s almost nine more foul shots per game than last season. That is not good.
We need fewer foul shots, not more. We need rules that cut down on foul shots. Maybe as teams adjust to the new rules, the foul shots will go down. But for now, whatever increase we’ve seen in offensive freedom has been countered by more standing on the foul line, with everyone waiting.
Any rule that encourages more foul shots is bad. In the NBA, the continuation rule is silly. A player drives, is fouled, then starts his motion to shoot and is awarded a shooting foul. Everybody to the line. It not only invalidates the game, it interrupts the game. Give us fewer foul shots, not more.
The new college rules were needed and will help the sport. But for now, they’re giving us something we don’t need.