This is an article from the Feb. 10, 1997 issue
Clemson 51, North Carolina State 42
North Carolina State 44, Penn State 41
Auburn 43, Tennessee 35
Those scores were not culled from pre-Korean War college
basketball reports or from recent ACC and SEC football results.
They are final scores from this basketball season, and they're
not the only examples of how meager scoring is these days.
According to the NCAA's midseason statistical analysis of games
through Jan. 12, the average number of points scored per game
has dropped from 145.3 at midseason last year to 140.4 (chart,
opposite). That's part of a decrease of more than seven points
from the end of the 1994-95 season. If the trend continues, it
will constitute the biggest two-year decline in nearly 40 years.
Why all the low scores in an era that has the bonus of the
three-point shot, the prod of the 35-second clock and the reward
of extra foul shots under certain circumstances? For one thing,
shooting is even uglier than it was last season--field goal
accuracy has fallen from 43.9% at the end of last season to a
32-year low of 43.3%, and three-point and free throw shooting
also continue to decline, to 33.7% and 66.5%, respectively.
That, in turn, leads coaches once again to blame the NCAA's
20-hours-a-week limit on athletic participation, the
panic-inducing shot clock and the siren's song of the ESPN
SportsCenter highlight reel. "Guys either want to shoot threes
or take it all the way to the basket for a dunk," says
Washington coach Bob Bender. "The medium-range shot is a lost
But those pet peeves aside, most coaches say that improved
defenses are the biggest reason for declining scores. In
1993-94, Marquette set the record for the lowest field goal
percentage allowed by a team, 35.8%. At last count four
teams--Marquette, Wake Forest, Connecticut and Wisconsin--were
bettering that mark. "Every clinic I speak at now, everybody
wants to talk about defense," says Arkansas coach Nolan
Richardson. "It used to be offense: 'What do y'all run?' It
isn't like that anymore."
As for recruiting, the kid who can press all night is getting
longer looks, says Stanford coach Mike Montgomery, because "some
coaches feel they can win quicker that way."
And with more defensive-minded athletes come more sophisticated
defenses. "Almost everyone plays some form of man-to-man, but
within that basic defense, there might be at least 100 ways of
playing it," says Washington State coach Kevin Eastman. Adds
Bender, "Even with zones, there are so many matchup principles
in them now--there are no straight zones--that it's making it
more difficult for the stationary shooters to be as effective."
Another thing stifling the effectiveness of shooters is
videotape. Some coaches use it so extensively that their players
go into a game knowing how many times an opponent will
dribble--and with which hand he'll do it--before pulling up to
shoot or pass. "We all see so much tape and break it down so
well that scouting is much more advanced than it was 10 years
ago," says Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. "Today you not only
know what a kid's favorite moves are, you know what his favorite
gum is." And there you have it, the real reason scores are
looking so old-fashioned: modern technology.
Pacific's 16-game winning streak, which ended last Saturday in
an 80-76 overtime Big West Conference loss at New Mexico State,
can be attributed to a number of things, including a gritty
defense and good three-point shooting (37.9% at week's end). But
the biggest reason is what coach Bob Thomason calls "the miracle
that fell into our laps."
On April 3, 1995, assistant Tony Marcopulos was eating lunch at
his desk when the phone rang, and on the line was Michael
Olowokandi, the 7-foot, 265-pound son of a London-based Nigerian
diplomat. Olowokandi was athletic enough to hold the British
national secondary school records in the triple jump and the
long jump, but he had decided that his future was in basketball,
even though he had played the game for only two years at the
intramural level. He was told that if he wanted to advance in
the sport, he should play for a college team in the U.S. So he
went to the library and picked up a Peterson's Four-Year
Colleges guide. "It just happened to open to Pacific, that was
the first school I saw," says Olowokandi. It turned out that
Pacific, a private college with a yearly tuition of $23,786, had
no scholarships left to offer, but Marcopulos extended
Olowokandi an invitation to try out at his own expense.
When he arrived on Pacific's Stockton, Calif., campus that
August, Olowokandi says, "I was living out a dream." He wasn't
jarred awake until the first practice. "I had never prepared
physically for something like that. It was the hardest thing
I've ever done."
"He had a lot of confidence, but he thought of himself as much
better than he really was," says Thomason. "We had to teach him
shooting, passing, terminology. He didn't know how to get after
the ball, how to be competitive. Fortunately, he's very
After extensive drills and conditioning, Olowokandi has improved
dramatically on last year's 4.0 points and 3.4 rebounds a game.
Says Thomason, "He's a player now." And one of the most feared
walk-ons in Division I. Though Pacific still hasn't been able to
free up a scholarship for him, Olowokandi, who was to return to
action this week after missing six games with a sprained knee,
was averaging 12.6 points and 7.4 rebounds a game. In the
Tigers' season-opening loss to Fresno State he scored 26 points,
and in a 73-56 win over Georgetown he had 16 points, 14 rebounds
and five blocks. "He has NBA potential, but there's room for
improvement," says Thomason. "If he keeps working, he can become
one of the best college centers in the game next year."
A WOUNDED FINCH
When Memphis coach Larry Finch negotiated a $413,660 buyout of
his contract last week and agreed to resign at the end of this
season, he reached what many Memphians regarded as the
inevitable conclusion to a once glorious career gone stale. In
pressuring Finch into a settlement, Memphis president V. Lane
Rawlins said it was "the hardest thing I've had to do as
president of this university," and he called Finch "the most
important figure in Memphis sports history."
A native Memphian, Finch led the Tigers to the 1973 NCAA
championship game against UCLA; as an assistant he helped
recruit the local talent that was the core of the '85 Final Four
team; and in his 11 years as coach he took Memphis to six NCAA
tournaments, including a final-eight appearance in '92. But over
the past two years there has been a decline in the Tigers'
fortunes. The shortcomings that led to Finch's demise included
--Anemic offense. Even in a season of low scores, Memphis's lack
of firepower stands out. The Tigers have scored more than 80
points only once and have been held to less than 50 four times.
Though their 11-10 record includes notable wins over Michigan,
Marquette and Louisville, they also suffered a very damaging
57-47 loss to in-state rival Tennessee in which Memphis scored
just 10 points in the first half. Said Finch after that game,
"I've never been so embarrassed in my life." But for some of
those woes, Finch can only blame his own...
--Lax recruiting. Finch has not signed a top high school player
from outside Memphis since he got Johnny Miller, from Jackson,
Miss., for the 1993-94 season, and Miller transferred out after
one season. Finch's recent harvests in his hometown have been
equally grim; three of this year's top local prospects, guards
Tony Harris, Robert O'Kelley and Cory Bradford, signed with
Tennessee, Wake Forest and Illinois, respectively. The loss of
Harris to the Vols particularly hurt but was not surprising in
light of Finch's recent recruiting methods. Last March he did
not personally attend the state's Class AAA championship, in
which both Harris and O'Kelley played.
Many Memphians, still upset about the Tigers' loss to Drexel in
the first round of the NCAAs last year, have shown their
displeasure. Revenue raised by the Tiger Clubs booster group
declined by $279,410 between the 1994-95 and the 1995-96
academic years, and season-ticket sales have dropped by 1,195
since last year. Attendance at the 20,000-seat Pyramid has even
fallen below 5,000 a couple of times this season.
Still, after the hammer fell last Thursday, Finch evinced no
bitterness. Calling the university's action "a business
decision," he summed up his life and career in Memphis as "a
fairy tale," saying, "How many people are fortunate to do all
that in their hometown? Not many. I feel very blessed."
DROP IN THE BUCKET
After point totals reached a meager 138.7 a game in the 1985-86
season, the three-pointer was introduced to give the game a
lift. Eleven seasons later, scoring is almost back to where it