Runnin' Rebels fans certainly are reacting to the proffered slogans, "Let's Run" and "Run as One" with raised eyebrows. "Just who is running?" they ask.
UNLV's scoring average of 74.1 points per game doesn't indicate that an up-tempo game is their forte. "Why don't they run like '91? Coach Rice says he wants to speed up the game, but we're not seeing it."
The surprising answer to the fans' questions is not as simple as it seems. The decrease in scoring isn't just a UNLV issue. It's a college basketball issue. And, it's been building for twenty years. John Akers, in an article for Basketball Times, addressed the issue.
In 1990-91, Southern University led the NCAA in scoring at 104.4 points per game. Arkansas scored 99.6, and UNLV was 4th at 97.7. The 20th highest scoring team was North Texas State at 88.1. Skip to today, Northwestern State leads all teams, with, drum roll, please, 84.3 points per game. Indiana is right behind at 83.2. The top scoring team of today would not even make the top 20 in 1991.
NCAA scoring is dropping, and coincidently, so is attendance. Why, then is it occurring? Reasons are many and debatable. Coaches have seen that more careful play creates fewer turnovers, and snail-like play has dominated the tournament. Connecticut averaged 66.1 ppg in winning the 2011 NCAA tournament. The Rebels averaged 95.1 in 1990. Overall, scoring has been lower in the tournament than during the regular season. Coaches have noticed.
Likewise, team possessions have decreased. As of January, DePaul was the fastest paced NCAA team, with 75.3 possessions per game. UNLV was 28th at 71.4, the fastest team at or near the Top 25 at that time. In 1990, Loyola Marymount was dizzying at 103.6 per game, but even Oklahoma averaged 88.7, and UNLV had 83.1.
Additionally, more coaches are willing to trade rebounding position for withdrawing players to protect against the fast break. It's no longer unusual to see four of five players retreat to the backcourt on free throws, or after a field goal is attempted.
Besides coaching decisions, other factors contribute. Synergy technology allows coaches to have incredibly detailed scouting reports on opponents, creating a "money ball" effect. Officials are allowing more contact on cutters and inside players. Media timeouts often interrupt team flow, according to some coaches. Surprisingly, some even blame the type of ball. Finally, it isn't that simple to find enough good-shooting players willing to put in the work that a real running style demands. Field-goal percentage has dropped.
There are many factors involved, but the evidence is there. This isn't 1990. The game has changed. How to fix it, is the question, and the answer may not be as easy as saying, "Let's Run."
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