A LONG DRY SPELL
Year after year, scores go down. Could the refs reverse the
The NCAA issued its annual midseason statistics recently,
revealing that once again scoring had dropped, from a team
average of 71.4 points per game for all of 1997-98 to 70.5 in
the first half of this season. The decline is even more dramatic
when this season is compared with 1974-75, when teams made an
alltime high average of 31.5 field goals and scored 76.6 points
despite the absence of the shot clock and the three-point shot.
In fact, when an adjustment for three-point inflation is made by
crediting all field goals since 1986-87 as two-pointers (on
average each team had made 5.9 treys a game this season, through
Jan. 10), then scoring fell from 76.6 in 1974-75 to 64.6 this
Why? Granted, shooting isn't as good as it was in 1974-75 (field
goal percentage has dropped from 46.0 to 43.7, while free throw
percentage has fallen from 69.0 to 67.1), but that by itself
doesn't account for the change. Improved defense is certainly
the biggest reason, but it might also be argued that overly
physical play--and officials' refusal to crack down on it--is
one of the main factors in the scoring slide. "A lot of teams
take the attitude that if they foul enough, the refs can't call
everything," says Boston College coach Al Skinner. "Years ago
they called everything."
The game indisputably features more contact than it used to,
especially in the paint. "There's more doubling in the post than
before," says Utah coach Rick Majerus. "That's causing more
contact, and fewer points are being scored."
February 15, 1999
Texas coach Rick Barnes, one of the country's most ardent
advocates of physical play, argues that the rough stuff has
increased most away from the ball--"knocking people off their
cuts," as he puts it. When he was coaching at Clemson in the
mid-'90s, Barnes had a famous tiff with North Carolina coach
Dean Smith over the bruising way the Tigers played. "It's a
coach's job to find a way to win," says Barnes, who also adds,
"If I had the most talented players in the country, I wouldn't
want the officials letting anybody touch them either."
It's no coincidence that the ACC, the nation's highest-scoring
conference at midseason (averaging 76.5 points per team), has a
reputation for stricter officiating. Says first-year Virginia
coach Pete Gillen, who spent four years in the Big East at
Providence, "The ACC is definitely called a little tighter."
The Wyatt Earp of the ACC is Fred Barakat, the conference's
supervisor of officials. Every October, Barakat requires his
referees to attend a two-day meeting before the one-day session
held by NCAA director of officials Hank Nichols. "I hold my guys
accountable," Barakat says. "We call hand checking, illegal post
play, grabbing off the ball, illegal screens. We probably do
more of that than other conferences do."
Unfortunately Barakat is the exception to the rule. Barnes, for
his part, has a motto of sorts. "Strength negates talent," he
says. It will, at least until officials make sure it doesn't.
A HEAPIN' HELPING OF WINS
After cruising downtown Salt Lake City for 20 minutes in search
of an eatery open after midnight, Utah coach Rick Majerus
settled on Dee's Family Restaurant on North Temple Street. It
was a shade past 1:30 a.m., about two hours after the Utes'
71-46 thrashing of BYU in Provo last Saturday. Majerus sat down
and ordered the Super Stack of pancakes topped with blueberries,
bananas and chocolate chips (extra butter and syrup), two eggs
over easy, a toasted English muffin and two orders of bacon. "A
lot of people say hunger is the best seasoning," he said. "I
think winning is."
For a man who likes his seasoning, the last few weeks have been
especially pleasing. After stumbling to a 5-4 start and dropping
out of the Top 25, the Utes had won 13 straight, including the
defeat of BYU, leaving them as the lone unbeaten team in the WAC
and ranked No. 14 in this week's poll. "I don't know what this
team is yet," Majerus said. "They defend well and play well
together. That's about it."
At Majerus U basketball is an advanced-placement course. Not
only must all of Majerus's players master the nuances of two
positions in his complex system--he has nine plays just to
defend against the pick-and-roll--but they must also become
fluent in his distinctive language of about 100 basketball
terms. Quotidian words take on new meanings at a Utah practice:
White means front on defense, as in "white the post"; sandwich
means the perimeter defender sags towards the basket, creating a
sandwich around the opposing big man; and butter is shouted
whenever the shot clock runs down to :07.
It's little wonder, then, that so much went wrong at the start
of this season. Majerus had to work eight freshmen, sophomores
and junior college transfers into his system. Senior point guard
Andre Miller, who was averaging 16.5 points, 6.6 rebounds and
5.9 assists through Sunday, is a national player of the year
candidate, but he's one of only three experienced Utes (along
with 6'9" junior Alex Jensen and 6'10" junior Hanno Mottola) who
played on last year's NCAA runners-up. As of Sunday, Nate
Althoff, a 6'11" sophomore, had started 19 games after playing
only 91 minutes last season. Six-foot junior Jeremy Killion,
another starter, was still taking a crash course in shot
selection after shooting without a conscience (27.1 points a
game) last year at Palomar College, a JC in San Marcos, Calif.
Utah's top newcomer, 6'5" juco transfer Tony Harvey, missed nine
games for academic and disciplinary reasons. But once all the
Utes got with the program, they soared.
A major factor in Utah's resurgence has been Jensen's
assertiveness on offense, which Majerus has been encouraging for
some time. "I passed up an open shot against Arkansas last
season, and Coach called a 20-second timeout," Jensen says. "He
stuck out his hand and said, real sarcastically,
'Congratulations, Alex, you just won the Mr. Sportsmanship award
for passing up an open shot.' I didn't know what to do. So I
shook his hand." Majerus has reiterated the message this season,
at one point writing JENSEN--TAKE TWO BAD SHOTS A GAME on the
greaseboard in Utah's locker room.
Jensen has learned his lesson. He got the first triple double by
a Utah player in the Utes' 30-year-old Huntsman Center, against
Fresno State on Jan. 25. He added 14 points and 13 rebounds in a
57-39 win over then No. 17 New Mexico in Albuquerque last week.
"It's kind of surprising we're doing this well," Jensen says. "I
knew we had the potential to be good, but I didn't think it would
happen so soon." --Seth Davis
Louisville's NCAA Reprieve
THESE CARDS WERE LUCKY
That sound you may have heard emanating from Louisville last
Friday was a collective sigh of relief as the NCAA vacated a
postseason ban on the Cardinals. The odor you may have detected,
however, was the fishiness of the decision.
The particulars: In November 1996 Louisville was placed on
probation for two years after an NCAA investigation found that a
booster had provided two vehicles to star center Samaki Walker
in '95. Before that probation was even announced, however,
another violation occurred. In mid-September '96 assistant coach
Scooter McCray negotiated a discounted hotel room rate for the
father of forward Nate Johnson, and later McCray guaranteed
payment for the room on his credit card. For those
transgressions the NCAA infractions committee--overruling the
finding of its own investigator that the violations were
so-called secondary ones--announced in September '98 that the
Cards were guilty of further major violations and banned them
from postseason play this year, among other sanctions.
Now, in an unprecedented reversal, the NCAA's infractions
appeals committee has lifted the postseason ban, agreeing with
the attorney for Louisville, Mike Glazier, that the school had
been denied the chance to argue that the later violations
weren't major. As a result, a program deemed by an NCAA
committee to have committed several major violations in the span
of two years will have the opportunity to earn seven figures in
the 1999 tournament.
Worse still, a closer look at Louisville's wranglings with the
NCAA shows a system of cronyism and conflicts of interest:
--The finding that the hotel room violations were secondary was
presented on Aug. 9, 1998, by Rich Hilliard, the NCAA's director
of enforcement. Later that month Hilliard resigned and accepted
a position with Glazier's Overland Park, Kans., law firm. (He
says that his job change was prompted by the NCAA's pending
relocation from Overland Park to Indianapolis, that he contacted
Glazier about a job only after he had submitted his finding to
the NCAA and that he has had nothing to do with the Louisville
matter since joining the firm. The timing of his move, however,
suggests that he was contemplating a job shift to the firm that
represented Louisville even as he recommended a slap on the
--Mike Slive, the chairman of the appeals committee, is the
commissioner of Conference USA, of which Louisville is a member.
Though Slive recused himself from the case, he advised Louisville
about its strategy.
--Slive is also the former senior partner in the defunct
Slive-Glazier Sports Group, which specialized in representing
colleges and universities in trouble with the NCAA. This, of
course, means that whenever Glazier faces the appeals committee,
he is arguing before his former partner.
Why did the infractions committee agree to let the appeals
committee make the final ruling on the case? (The NCAA
acknowledges that the usual procedure in such instances is to
remand the matter to the infractions committee for rehearing.)
Explains David Swank, the infractions committee chair, "There
were serious findings against Louisville, that's true, but if we
had reheard the case, the earliest postseason penalty wouldn't
have gone into effect until 2000. We didn't think that it was
fair to penalize [next year's] players for violations that
occurred before they got there."
The lesson in all this, it seems? Hire high-priced legal help
and drag out the process until the NCAA gives up. --Jon
For the latest scores and recruiting news, plus Seth Davis's
College Hoops Mailbag, check out www.cnnsi.com.
Where Have All the Shots Gone?
Scoring is down again this season, by about one point a game
from last year, continuing a trend that might appall lovers of
clean, well-executed offensive basketball. The following chart
(condensed by showing the stats for every fourth year)
illustrates the marked decline in scoring since 1974-75. Note
the fall in the number of shots taken as play has become more
physical on defense. About 22 fewer shots are launched in an
average game today than was the case in 1974-75, long before the
shot clock was introduced (in 1985-86) to speed up the game.
YEAR FGM FGA FTM FTA PPG PER TEAM
1974-75 31.5* 68.4 13.7 19.9 76.6
1978-79 29.6 62.1 14.8 21.1 74.0
1982-83 27.2 57.0 14.5 21.2 69.3
1986-87 27.2 58.7 14.9 21.5 69.3[+] (72.8)
1990-91 27.9 60.6 15.9 23.2 71.7[+] (76.7)
1994-95 26.5 59.7 15.3 22.6 68.3[+] (74.2)
1998-99 25.0 57.3 14.5 21.7 64.6[+] (70.5)
[+]Scoring figures from 1986-87 on are adjusted for inflation,
subtracting one point for each three-pointer made. Actual
scoring averages are in parentheses.
SOURCE: NCAA; 1998-99 STATS THROUGH GAMES OF JAN. 10.
WEEKLY SEED REPORT
Seed watchers were abuzz as the most turbulent week in the
report's illustrious--if brief--history was concluded. In all,
10 seeded teams from a week ago lost at least once, including
three of the No. 1s: Connecticut, Cincinnati and Stanford. When
the fax dust settled, our pollsters had elected two new No. 1s,
Auburn and Michigan State, and had added a new name to the
seedings, Miami of Florida.
But those changes weren't the hottest topic. The big debate was
over whether Duke or Connecticut should get the coveted top spot
in the East. Some voters thought UConn shouldn't be penalized
for losing to Syracuse, because the Huskies were without
starters Richard Hamilton and Jake Voskuhl and then came back,
still without Hamilton, to defeat Stanford in Palo Alto. But
ultimately the voters were more impressed by the Blue Devils'
second demolition, by a score of 95-77, of Maryland this season.
Now No. 1 in the RPI rankings, the AP poll and schedule
strength, the Blue Devils were accorded our No. 1 spot in the
East as well.
1. Duke (23-1)
2. Kentucky (19-6)
3. St. John's (18-6)
4. Indiana (18-7)
1. Connecticut (20-1)
2. Maryland (20-4)
3. UCLA (17-5)
4. Miami (15-5)
1. Michigan State (20-4)
2. Cincinnati (21-2)
3. Arizona (16-4)
4. North Carolina (19-6)
1. Auburn (22-1)
2. Stanford (19-4)
3. Ohio State (17-6)
4. Utah (18-4)