College basketball has devolved over time

LOS ANGELES — Perhaps you saw "Survive And Advance," the stirring documentary on North Carolina State's 1983 NCAA championship.

The producers were kind enough to include possibly the most entertaining game in the history of that tournament, Houston's 94-81 slam-dance over Louisville in the semifinals.

As the Cougars and Cardinals played 40 minutes in anti-gravity boots, a stunned Roger Valdiserri tuned to his cohorts on press row.

"Ladies and gentlemen," said the Notre Dame sports information director, "welcome to the 21st century."

Well, now we're well into the 21st century.

Why does it feel like the 19th?

"You'll never see that type of college basketball game again," said Dave Dickerson, the Ohio State associate coach.

We're accustomed to believe that all our sports will develop into something better. But college hoops has devolved.

It has become the equivalent of the cloth diaper and the dial-up telephone. It is much more about survival than advancement.

The 1983 N.C. State team came back from the abyss to beat teams staffed by Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, Sidney Green, Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon.

Today's equivalent players would be John Wall, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, all of whom turned pro early.

But the problem is a game-wide lack of skill. Where is it? Trapped inside a weight room or a coach's playbook? If so, no one seems to be paying the ransom.

"Shooting is at a premium now," said Dickerson, who played at Maryland in the late '80s and was an assistant when Maryland won the '02 championship.

"You have to recruit it. Take a bad shooter and make him great? It doesn't happen every day. There's an emphasis on defending, driving the ball and getting to the foul line."

Northwestern State averaged 81 points per game in the regular season, Iowa 80.7 and Indiana 80. They ranked 1-2-3 in scoring.

UCLA scored 74.8 — you know, in Ben Howland's hidebound, sclerotic offense — and led the Pac-12.

Ten seasons ago, 16 teams averaged 80 points, led by Arizona's 85.2.

In 1995, UCLA's national championship team averaged 87.3.

Division I teams averaged 76.7 points in 1991, 68.1 last year. In 1984, the year after the miracle Wolfpack, the average field-goal percentage reached a record 48.1. Last season it settled down to 43.6.

You might remember that the advent of the 3-point shot nationally (in the 1987 season) and the shot clock (1986) were supposed to promote points and make upsets impossible.

"Strange as it might sound, the 3-point line has affected it the other way," Dickerson said. "A lot of guys think they can make 3s and they aren't great shooters."

It once was considered herculean to hold a team to less than 40 percent shooting. This year Western Illinois' defense stopped opponents at exactly 40 percent. It ranked 48th in Division I.

Ohio State and VCU were the only teams to reach 88 points in the first week of the NCAA Tournament. Illinois shot 13 percent in the second half against Colorado, and won.

The slashing, basket-attacking guard now disappears into a thicket of weightlifters, or runs over a defender for a charging foul or, more likely, gets bumped off his stride without a whistle.

The NBA solved its scoring problem by calling off-the-ball fouls. The NCAA, for some reason, is reluctant.

"The physicality has changed the way we coach," Dickerson said. "We didn't have a strength coach when I played. Now we have one of the best in the country, and he travels with us everywhere.

"The play off the ball is more restricted than it used to be. Guys can't go from Point A to Point C. It's not free-flowing. And when you have that many long, athletic guys, they can make up for defensive mistakes."

The college game has also been consumed by the pick-and-roll. With restricted practice time, it's easier to teach. It requires less dexterity than the five-man motion offenses. But it also requires more oomph.

"I never played pick-and-roll," Dickerson said. "Some teams have five ways to defend it. A lot of people use it — and a lot of people aren't getting anything out of it because of the physicality."

Ohio State's average Big Ten score this year was 64.7 to 56.5 and the Buckeyes never scored more than 74 in league.

"In reality, if you can win 65-62, you're happy," Dickerson said.

"Then we played Iowa State last Sunday, and we hadn't seen a team like that. They had five guys who could shoot the 3."

That one was 78-75. Seemed almost lifelike.

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