#KPI BLOG: Scoring down in December

The rule changes meant to increase scoring this year in college basketball have been a hot topic.  ESPN.com’s Eamonn Brennan wrote this piece on December 16.  Matt Norlander of CBSSports.com wrote this on December 10.  The storyline has been that the increases have been significant.  I have written about the “per possession” data and how some increases have been relative to the increased pace of play.

December has told a slightly different story.  The increase in scoring was 43.4% lower in December than November when compared to full season data from 2012-13.  In the numbers world, that’s a lot.  That’s actually a real lot.

As of November 30, scoring in college basketball was up 5.7 points per game, a whopping 8.5%.  Personal fouls were up 2.5 per team, per game (a 14.1% increase) and free throw attempts were up 3.7 per team, per game (a 19.1% increase).  Possessions were up 3.5 per team, per game (a 5.3% increase).  There were 115 instances of teams topping 100 points in a single game in November alone.

The 5.7 PPG increase in November decreased to a 3.2 PPG scoring increase in December when compared to 2012-13 data.  Scoring fell from 73.2 PPG in November to 70.7 PPG in December.  The 2.5 fouls per game increase in November fell to 1.2 fouls per game more in December than last year.  The increase of 3.7 free throw attempts per game in November was only a 2.1 attempts per game increase in December.  Possessions per game fell from 70.2 in November to 68.5 in December (after finishing last year at 66.7 per game).  Comparing November to December, points fell 3.4%, fouls decreased 6.6% and free throw attempts fell 6.8%.  The number of fouls called has decreased every week for nine straight weeks (21.2, 20.5, 19.9, 19.3, 19.2, 19.1, 18.9, 18.5, 18.4 per game each week). Updated statistical trends through January 1 can be found here: http://kpisports.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/college-basketball-statistical-trends-through-1-1-14.pdf

In 2012-13, scoring between November and December was relatively constant. Teams averaged 67.6 PPG in November and 67.4 PPG in December, a 0.3% decrease from one month to the next.  A week by week chart from 2012-13 and 2013-14 can be found here: http://kpisports.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/cbb-ppg-by-week-chart.pdf

Why did this happen?  I attempted to eliminate all variables:

  • 38.1% of November games were at a neutral site, while only 17.7% of games in December were at a neutral site.  Scoring in neutral site games fell from 73.2 PPG to 68.2 PPG between November and December while scoring for true away/home games fell from 73.3 PPG to 71.0 PPG.  The decrease in neutral site games was greater than the home/away decrease.  More neutral site games, in theory, would have actually increased the decrease.
  • 17.9% of games played by Division-I teams in November were played against Non Division-I teams. 14.6% of games in December were against Non Division-I teams. Scoring decreased by 2.7 points per game (from 72.7 to 70.0 PPG) in games played between two Division-I teams.  Personal fouls decreased from 20.4 to 19.0 and free throw attempts decreased from 23.8 to 22.0 in Division-I vs. Division-I games.
  • Games decided by 10 points or less rose from 40.3% of all games in November to 43.4% of all games in December.  Points per game decreased by 2.9 PPG in games decided by 0-5 points and by 2.3 PPG in games decided by 6-10 points. The slight increase in competitive games had little to no effect on the scoring decrease.

Points, personal fouls, free throw attempts and possessions have all decreased in December regardless of strength of opponent, location of game or final margin.  Just as the increases in field goal attempts, 3-pt attempts, rebounds and blocks were relative to the increase in possessions, the decreases from November to December are relative to the decrease in possessions.

The bottom line is fewer fouls are being called.  The increase in fouls from last year was 53.4% lower in December than it was in November.  The explanations is likely as simple as players, coaches and officials have adjusted to the new rules.  Teams are either fouling less or officials are passing on more calls.

To review:

  • Scoring is up 6.8% on the year (4.6 PPG) and up 2.6% points per possession (from 1.01 to 1.04).  Scoring fell from 73.2 PPG to 70.7 PPG between November and December.
  • Fouls per game are up 10.6% (from 17.7 to 19.6 fouls on the year) and free throw attempts are up 15.3% (from 19.8 to 22.8).  Fouls fell from 20.2 to 18.9 per game between November and December, while free throw attempts fell from 23.5 to 21.9 per game.
  • Possessions are up 4.0% (2.7 per team, per game) and are the direct cause in overall increases (but minimal per possession increases) for field goal attempts, 3-pt attempts, rebounds and blocked shots.  Possessions fell from 70.2 to 68.5 per game between November and December.
  • Steals are down 7.9% per possession and turnovers are down 6.1% per possession.  More steals/turnovers from last year are fouls this year.
  • The November increases were about twice as extreme than the December increases when both were compared to 2012-13 data.

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