Boys State Tournament Statistical Analysis

OK, one final commentary about the boys state tournament. Some of you may know that I’ve been tracking the scoring averages of the state tournament, well, since 1913. Scoring increased, well, not from the beginning. It actually started high (34-21 in 1913), then declined for a quarter-century with an all-time low of 32 points for both teams in 1920, 1925 and 1926. After that scoring increased pretty much steadily until it reached an all-time high of 79-58 (137 total points) in 1968. That remains the record to this day.

After that, state tournament scoring dropped precipitously to 52-43 in 1978, and it was under 100 again in 1983. Some of you may remember that the 3-point shot was adopted quite explicitly to increase the pace and action and scoring, that is, to make basketball more exciting for the fans. 

Well, state tournament scoring reached 120 points again in 1988, the first year of the 3-pointer in Minnesota high schools, and in 1997, the first year of 4 classes. But, it only reached 120 again in 2006. Since 2006, the average state tournament score exceeded 120 points 12 of 17 years. Thanks in part to the 3-pointer.

But the point was not just to increase scoring, it was to increase excitement. The fact is that if you pretend that there’s no 3-pointer, if you give 2 points for every field goal, well, then, scoring is still below 120 points. Take 2023 for example.

4A winners made 22-of-38 2-pt FG (58%), 6.5-of-18 3-pt FG (36%) and 13-of-18 FT (72%)

4A losers     15-of-35 (43%)     7-of-21 (33%)     13-of-18 (72%)

3A winners     20-of-35 (57%)     6-of-15 (40%)     12-of-18 (67%)

3A losers     13-of-27 (45%)     6-of-20 (30%)     12-of-17 (71%)

2A winners     17-of-34 (50%)     8-of-20 (40%)     14-of-20 (70%)

2A losers     16-of-37 (43%)     6-of-22 (27%)     9-of-13 (69%)

1A winners     17-of-34 (50%)     5-of-15 (33%)     10-of-15 (67%)

All winners     19-of-35 (54%)     6-of-17 (35%)     12-of-18 (67%)     69 points (without the 3=63)

All losers     14-of-32 (44%)     6-of-21 (28.5%)     10-of-15 (67%)     58 points (without the 3= 52)

So what does all of this mean.

1) Winning basketball means making more 2 pointers than your opponents. Games are not won and lost on 3s and free throws.

2) If not for the 3-pointer (12 of them, worth 12 more points than a 2-pointer), if not for that, scoring would average 63-52. Well, when basketball scoring was on the rise in the 1940s and 1950s, well, scores of 63-52 were standard issue by the mid-1950s. When scoring dropped after about 1970, it was below 63-52 through most of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. So games today are a little high scoring than they were in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, even if you normalize for the 3-pointer. But, just a little. In fact, the pace of the game today is closer to the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, when everybody said the game was boring, than to the ’60s. 

3) My belief is that the higher scores today–again, after you normalize for the 3–are due to higher shooting percentages. The pace of the game, in other words, is not any faster than it was. The number of FG attempts has not increased, it has probably dropped a little bit.

4) Not only that but you’ve now got 33 FT attempts per game. For many many years, basketball fans and coaches and anybody who cared about the game chafed at the number of FT being shot. #1, free throws were not as good of a test of skill as FG. Games, people thought, should be decided by FG, not FT. Well, in this year’s state tournament, that was the case. The average winner made 5 more FG than the average loser, while both made the same number of FT.

But in addition to that, in granddad’s day, they thought that FT were boring. They slowed the game down, they interrupted the real action. Are 33 FT too many? Does it slow down the game too much? Eye of the beholder. But one thing I’ve seen at the high school level is kids playing the game like the pros and the colleges do. What that means is that they drive the ball into the paint and attack the rim, and throw up a shot that has zero chance of going into the basket. The only purpose of the shot is to try to draw the foul. My personal opinion is that too often the officials bailed out kids taking terrible shots that were never going to go in the basket. If a kid drives into the lane and is out of control and has no shot, that should be the offense’s problem. Too often, the officials make it the defense’s problem. I mean, the defense can’t hardly get the hell out of the way fast enough. Oh, and they make it the fans’ problem, too, because they interrupt the action so that that kid can shoot a couple of ill-deserved FT. And, at 67%, they’re not making any more FT as a percentage than we made 50 years ago. What’s with that?

Stop calling bail-out fouls and, guess what? Kids will quit taking these terrible, stupid shots and the action on the floor will continue and it will be much more exciting. 

5) But, anyway, my main point is that the 3-point shot has shifted the action from the half-court to the full-court. And that’s a good thing. But it has not increased the pace of the game as measured by the number of possessions and FG attempts. Cutting down on bail-out calls strikes me as the quickest and easiest way to increased the pace and the excitement of the game.

Can somebody pass that on to the MSHSL because I can assure you they don’t want to hear this from me.