Greg Hansen: Scoring, excitement on decline in tourney

2012-03-23T00:00:00Z 2013-03-08T19:03:43Z Greg Hansen: Scoring, excitement on decline in tourneyGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 23, 2012 12:00 am  • 

In the middle of the Madness, prisoner to the big screen, I found myself watching Kansas play Purdue. But they weren't "playing" at all. They were adjourned.

The clock said 3:41 remained in the NCAA tournament game. Drawn by the chance for a buzzer-beater, absorbed by the drama, I did not move. This is what I saw over the next 27 minutes:

A media timeout.

A Purdue timeout.

A Purdue timeout.

A KU timeout.

A KU timeout.

A Purdue timeout.

A Purdue timeout.

There were two additional stoppages for free-throw attempts and six more for player substitutions. (Sadly, both coaches had previously burned their one "30-second" timeout, which is becoming the most exciting call in basketball.)

It was the longest 3:41 of my life. Afterward, Boilermaker fans wept. Me, too. I will never get those 27 minutes back.

I am a sucker for the concept of the NCAA tournament and am probably the only person in the universe whose lucky numbers are 13, 29, 30 and 54. (They are the cable channels upon which CBS, TNT, TBS and TruTV broadcast the Big Dance.) I always get choked up when watching "One Shining Moment," even though the team I want never wins it.

But for the first time in my big-screen-watching life, I worry about college hoops because it has gone off the tracks and is in danger of becoming a Big Fat Bore.

The games take too long, the pace is too slow, and so few points are scored that it's starting to make a Kansas City Royals-Minnesota Twins game seem exciting.

On the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, only five of the 48 games ended with both teams scoring at least 70 points. A decade ago, at the 2002 tournament, that total was 15 games. In the 1992 tournament it was 16.

It's a toxic combination: fewer points and less activity.

Halftime has been expanded from 15 to 20 minutes. Each media timeout is 2 minutes and 30 seconds but routinely requires three minutes before the ball is put back in play. Each game has 18 potential timeouts (eight media and five for each team).

"You have so much time; it's unlike anything," Ohio State coach Thad Matta told reporters after his team's first-round victory over Loyola-Maryland. "It crushes momentum."

I turned to the finish of the Creighton-Alabama game. The clock showed 1:44 remained. Here's what I saw:

An Alabama timeout.

A media timeout.

An Alabama timeout.

An Alabama timeout.

An Alabama timeout.

A Creighton timeout.

Two stoppages for free throws and five player substitution stoppages.

The final 1:44 of that game required 21 minutes. The score was predictably modest, 58-57.

Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin defended the pace of the tournament games, telling reporters, "CBS pays a lot of money."

College basketball is no longer an artistic success because the pool of available talent, those you'd once find on the ballot for the John Wooden Award, rarely plays more than two seasons of college ball. The talent is strained and to cover for that gap, coaches take more control. Scoring has plummeted.

Fifteen years ago, in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, the winner's average score was 76.7. Ten years ago, in 2002, it was 81.4.

This year it was 65.9.

Incredibly, if your team scored just 67 points in the first weekend of the tournament (that's 48 total games), it would have gone 38-9-1.

This is exceedingly difficult to fathom in Tucson, where as recently as 2003 and 2004, Lute Olson's Arizona Wildcats led the NCAA in scoring with 87.6 and 85.2 points per game.

Now, nobody runs. It's a half-court game. It's Herb Sendek controlling the programming.

The evolution of college basketball is so thorough that you almost choke when reminded that UNLV won the 1990 national title by averaging 95.1 points in the tournament. That's how ridiculously talented the Rebels were and how entertaining college basketball used to be.

When UCLA won the 1995 national title, the Bruins averaged 86.3 points. Now there are almost no transition baskets. Now, UConn is the defending national champ after averaging 66.1 points in last year's tournament.

We are not safe from crawl ball. It has infected Arizona basketball as much as it has overtaken the Big Dance and all that rolls on the Road to the Final Four.

The Wildcats scored in the 50s on nine occasions this year. From 1992 to the conclusion of the Lute Olson era, it scored in the 50s just eight times (covering more than 500 games) in the regular season.

Now, we wait 27 minutes to see the final 3:41 of an NCAA tournament game in which there are seven timeouts and just 14 points.

The last great innovations in college basketball were the 35-second clock and the three-point shot.

The next great innovations should be the 30-second clock and the 20-second timeout.

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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