Published January 17, 2013
Northern Illinois made its first shot against Dayton. Some 17 excruciating minutes and 15 misses later the Huskies made their second, and last, basket of the first half.
"Coach's nightmare," coach Mark Montgomery said, recalling that miserable December night.
Fans' nightmare, too.
Scoring and shooting percentages in Division I men's basketball have been dropping for decades, though opinions vary on the reasons why so many clankfests are playing out across the country night after night.
Coaches point to a decline in talent with young stars leaving early to play professional ball. Some say the way the game is played has changed, with defenses more physical and offenses more perimeter-oriented because of a lack of great big men. In addition, the copious amount of scouting video helps coaches devise strategies to counter opponent strengths.
Teams were averaging 68 points per game at the start of this week, the same as last season, according to STATS LLC. That's the lowest since the average was 67.6 in 1982, according to the NCAA, and about 10 points a game less than the record scoring era of the early 1970s when, interestingly, there was no shot clock. This season's .433 field-goal percentage is the worst since the .431 in 1965.
Accuracy from beyond the arc is down to .339, lowest since the 3-pointer came into the college game in 1986-87.
What's with all the bricks?
"Guys are more athletic and can get out and run," BTN analyst and former Ohio State All-American Jim Jackson said, "but talent-wise, we're missing a little something."
That woeful first half for Northern Illinois against Dayton ended with five points, tied for fewest in a half by a Division I team since at least 1996. The Huskies haven't been alone in their struggles.
Coppin State scored eight points in the first half against Florida Atlantic and lost 64-61. Overmatched Alabama State scored just nine in the first half against Florida on its way to an 84-35 loss.
Wait, there's more: Clemson managed only 10 points in the first half against Duke two weeks ago in a 68-40 road loss. Minnesota led Northwestern 17-14 at the half in a 69-51 win, and Wisconsin and Nebraska scuffled to a 17-17 first half in the Badgers' cringe-worthy 47-41 victory.
In another game that would win no beauty contests, Georgetown finished with its lowest point total since 1985 in a 37-36 victory over Tennessee.
The youth movement — to the NBA — gets some of the blame. The top three draft picks in 2012 had just completed their freshman seasons, and 12 of the first 15 were freshmen or sophomores. In all, 49 underclassmen left school early with hopes of going to the NBA.
Vanderbilt is a prime example of a team hurt by an early departure. The Commodores averaged 72.6 points last season with a veteran team that won 25 games and came within a win of the NCAA round of 16. They went into this weekend 6-9, averaging 59.1 points and shooting 40.5 percent.
It wouldn't be hard to convince coach Kevin Stallings that things would be better if John Jenkins had stayed in school rather than skip his senior season. Jenkins, who averaged 19.9 points, is now averaging 4.2 points in about 10 minutes a game for the Atlanta Hawks, who drafted him in the first round.
Vanderbilt has scored 52 or fewer points in six games, including 33-point nights in losses to Marist and Arkansas.
"There have been some odd scores, and it seems like there have been more odd ones than normal. Maybe that's just because I've been involved in a few of them," Stallings said. "I don't think defensive play has all of a sudden gotten that much better or that much further ahead of the offense."
Clemson coach Brad Brownell said younger teams like his are more apt to miss than hit on the road, as was the case with the Tigers at Duke's Cameron Indoor Arena.
"The pressure, what you're playing against, can mount a little bit and you revert back to old habits, which are to put your head down and go try to make individual plays," Brownell said.
Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said putting a young team on the floor against a great defensive opponent spells trouble. Defenders tend to clutch and grab more than they used to, and officials let the big men bang in the paint. Then add the 16,000 fans in the stands and bright lights.
"They can be a little tight," Chambers said, "so they're missing shots, missing layups, missing free throws."
Illinois' John Groce said coaching has never been better, and coaches have more tools at their disposal when it comes to game-planning.
"I could go to the office and say I want every underneath out-of-bounds play that Northwestern has run in the last 30 games, and my video guy could get me that in 15 minutes," Groce said. "I think there is more video than there ever has been, and maybe that has to do with some of the scoring. I don't have anything objectively or statistically to give it to you concrete, but it's a thought."
Northern Illinois' Montgomery had a more simple explanation for why his team — the third-youngest in Division I with two freshman and two sophomore starters — kept missing against Dayton. It was just a really bad night, he said.
Akeem Springs made a jump shot just inside the 3-point arc on Northern Illinois' first attempt from the field.
"You're thinking, 'OK, we got that out of the way,'" Montgomery said. "Then you miss a layup, you miss free throws, and then it's, 'Oh, oh. Here we go.' "
The more the Huskies missed, the more desperate they seemed to become.
"You see the frustration in their eyes because they're competitors and you know they're working so hard to score," Montgomery said.
The Huskies didn't score for 16 minutes, 2 seconds — six seconds shy of the NCAA record for longest drought — and that was on Travon Baker's free throw. Baker's floater in the lane with 2:40 left was Northern Illinois' last, and only other, field goal of the first half.
Five points in 20 minutes. Northern Illinois outscored the Flyers 38-34 after the break but lost 60-43.
"Sometimes you've got to credit the other team's defense," Montgomery said. "But you know what, sometimes you get unlucky bounces and the ball won't go in the hole."