Sports

Mark Story: Where has all the big scoring gone?

On the exact date (Feb. 7, 1970) that Dan Issel set the single-game Kentucky scoring record that Jodie Meeks has now erased, LSU's Pete Maravich produced an even more dramatic points binge.

While Issel was hanging 53 on Mississippi, the Pistol was lighting up coach C.M. Newton and Alabama for an amazing 69 points.

"If they'd had the three-point shot, hell, Pete would've had a 100," Newton said Thursday. "All his shots were from the outside."

The scintillating 54-point performance of Meeks at Tennessee on Tuesday — and the subsequent news coverage of it — have reawakened what is, for me, one of the great mysteries of college basketball.

In comparison to the late 1960s, early 1970s era of college basketball gunslingers, where has all the scoring gone?

Consider:

■ Of the all-time top-scoring games at the 12 Southeastern Conference schools, nine of the 12 marks were set in the late 1960s or early 1970s. (Before Meeks bested Issel's UK record, that number would have been 10 of the 12).

■ In its regal basketball history, Kentucky has had 26 games in which a player scored 40 or more points. There were six such games in the 1950s, six in the '60s and eight in the 1970s.

Yet even counting Meeks' two this season, there have been only six games of 40 or more at UK since 1980.

■ For the year (1969-70) in which Issel set his single-game Kentucky scoring record, UK averaged 79 shot attempts (and 96.8 points) a game.

This season, UK is averaging 55.5 shots a game (and 80.4 ppg).

Even Kentucky's 1996 NCAA champions, the epitome of high-octane Pitino ball, took 10 fewer shots a game (68) and scored almost six fewer points (91) than Issel's final UK team did.

From the vantage point of the 21st century, it is very hard to understand why modern college hoops — which, unlike the Maravich/Issel era, has both a three-point shot and a shot clock — produces less offense.

Where have the points gone?

Theories abound.

Former Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall says he thinks the 35-second shot clock has actually slowed down basketball.

Knowing that they will have to exert themselves for only a fixed period of time, defenders are able to go all-out for entire possessions, Hall says.

"They know they'll only have to defend for, like, 25 seconds, so they can really pressure you the whole time," Hall said. "I think the (shot) clock has made it harder to score, I really do."

Newton says players in the SEC in the late 1960s and early 1970s — when there were also prolific scorers like Johnny Neumann (Mississippi) and John Mengelt (Auburn) — were better shooters but not as athletically gifted as the players of today.

That has translated to a more defensive-oriented game in which slam dunks and blocked shots are more emphasized than old-fashioned jump shooting.

Says Newton: "Television is somewhat of a culprit in that, if you watch ESPN and the highlights shows, they'll show every dunk but you usually won't see a jump shot unless it's a game-winner or something."

Terry Mills, who played with Issel for Adolph Rupp at Kentucky and watched his son Cameron play for UK in the late 1990s, says one reason individual scoring numbers are down now is that coaches play more players.

That both dilutes scoring opportunities and keeps defenders fresh.

"Unless something unusual happened, Coach Rupp was only going to play seven guys for any extended period," Mills said. "Now, it's regular for a coach to play 10, 11 guys."

Newton points out that the phenomenon that was Maravich accounts for a good bit of the late 1960s/early 1970s scoring explosion. Playing for his father, Press Maravich, the Pistol had carte blanche to fire at will. Pete had 47 games — 47! — in which he scored 40 points or more at LSU.

I'll confess up-front that my memory of UK and college basketball begins around 1972. I don't recall Issel nor Maravich as collegians.

Still, I have a theory on what has changed.

College basketball of today is universally over-coached.

Video technology has advanced to such a degree that teams have tapes of every one of an opponent's games. Scouting is so advanced that foes know every conceivable player tendency.

Fans have come to expect a preening control freak on the sideline. If a coach actually sits on the bench and lets his team play — as John Wooden did on the way to 10 national titles — he's criticized for not coaching.

My guess is that what made the 70s show in basketball such boffo entertainment was that (some of) the coaches actually let the players play.

Novel idea, that.

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