Last week marked the end of both the 2015 calendar year and the ACC nonconference basketball season. n 18-game ACC schedule was adopted in 2012-13, that more or less marked the end of playing any outside opponents in January or February. Some coaches, notably Mike Krzyzewski, used such outings against a St. John’s or Temple as a testing measure, to see how a quality team scouted his Blue Devils, identifying weaknesses and trying to exploit them. Those games also helped Duke’s strength of schedule.
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Other, like former Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg, threw in a Longwood as a glorified scrimmage, then griped loudly when their schedule was deemed insufficiently rigorous to earn an NCAA bid.
One good thing about the clean schedule break is that it provides a clear point of statistical demarcation. League play is tougher, more intimate. Analogies inevitably, and unfortunately, turn to warfare because the nature of the competition rises a notch in intensity, tending to accent defense and stifle offense. Scoring goes down – about six points on average last year, nine the previous season.
Comparisons based on nonconference schedules come with caveats, of course. (What doesn’t?) Because the choice of opposition is largely voluntary, the strengths of the challenges vary widely. For instance, Duke doesn’t play on non-league home courts unless forced to do so in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Saturday afternoon’s visit to Notre Dame marks only the second time Pitt has left home turf since its ill-fated, cancelled opener at Okinawa two months ago.
Team variations notwithstanding, the turn of the year offered a chance to examine how the game was affected by a barrage of much-ballyhooed rules tweaks and changed interpretations intended to goose offense and the pace of play: a shortened shot clock, a wider restricted arc under the basket, elimination of the 5-second, closely guarded call, more stringent policing of contact on the perimeter, and more.
Both nationally and within the league, scoring and possessions were up as December ended. So were 3-point attempts. Surprisingly, shot-clock violations did not increase and fouls jumped just one per game, according to J.D. Collins, NCAA national coordinator of men’s basketball officiating. He credited coaches for adapting quickly to the new circumstances.
"I think there’s some very good signs that the freedom of movement has created, or is creating, a positive for the game, which the rules committee, that’s what their intent was," says Collins. Despite his optimistic take, he’s reserving judgment until a season or more of data is available.
Many of us are reserving judgment too. That goes for skeptics who distrust tinkering with the game to make it more closely resemble the NBA product, or simply fans of a healthy balance between offense and defense.
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