Chuck McGill: If more points was the point, the new rules are working
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- This would've been a fair sports trivia question a year ago: Which Division I men's basketball teams averaged 80 or more points per game during the 2012-13 season?
The answer: Northwestern State (81.0 points per game), Iona (80.7) and Indiana (80.0).
Difficult, yes, but the same question would be impossible now. There are 49 teams at or above the 80.0 points-per-game mark so far this season, an inevitable consequence of the freedom of movement rule changes. The objective was to create a free-flowing game and, subsequently, more scoring.
According to NCAA statistical trends through the first quarter of the 2013-14 season, scoring has increased, shooting percentages are improved and turnovers have declined. Last season, college basketball saw its lowest scoring season since 1952, but points have jumped from a six-decade low of 67.5 points per game to 73.8 this season.
Those numbers, and the following, are through the first quarter of the regular season.
Collectively, college basketball teams are shooting 44.7 percent, up from 43.3 last season. Three-point field goal percentage has increased slightly from 34.1 to 34.3 percent. Predictably, with more fouls being called, there are more free throws being made (increase of 2.7 per game) and attempted (increase of 4.0 per game), but that accounts for only half of the 6-point increase in scoring.
The changes are more noticeable here in the Mountain State, where the only two Division I programs are among the 49 programs averaging at least 80.0 points per game this season. Marshall is No. 12 nationally in scoring at 85.8 points per game, while West Virginia is No. 42 at 81.0 points per game.
The Thundering Herd's 12-game numbers are well above the national average across the board, but it benefited from a pair of blowouts against non-Division I competition (a 42-point win over Rio Grande and a 64-point win against Alice Lloyd). MU averaged 120 points in those two games.
The Herd, however, is still averaging 79.0 points per game against D-I opponents. Last season the Herd averaged 69.0 points in 32 games.
The Mountaineers' scoring turnaround is even more drastic. Coach Bob Huggins' group averaged 66.1 points across 32 games last season, but that average is up nearly 15 points this season. WVU's field goal percentage has increased from 40.8 to 46.4, and its 3-point numbers have improved from 31.6 percent to 39.8
West Virginia's numbers aren't coming at the line, either. Last season, the Mountaineers averaged 15.65 free throws made per game, while this season they're sinking 15.83 fouls shots per game.
Sure, improved personnel deserves credit, but it doesn't hurt that Juwan Staten isn't getting bumped and battered as he tries to create offense for himself and teammates. WVU's turnovers have dropped from 13.0 last season to 9.7 this season - the ninth-best figure nationally.
Scoring, however, doesn't necessarily equal success. Marshall finished 13-19 last season under the old rules, and the Herd is 5-7 this season and 3-7 against Division I competition. The 11 teams averaging more points per game than Marshall are a combined 103-24. Only Northwestern State, the nation's top scoring team last season, has a losing record in that group.
Marshall and Northwestern State each have a scoring flaw, though. The Herd ranks in the bottom 10 nationally in free-throw percentage. Northwestern State, which leads the country in field goals made, is dead last in 3-point percentage.
There is plenty of time for those teams to change their fortunes, but the implementation of the new rules has made it pretty clear:
Scoring is here to stay.
Contact sports editor Chuck McGill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-7949. Follow him on Twitter @chuckmcgill.