- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 13, 2012

College basketball teams have been offensively challenged all season, at times struggling to score 50 points. And as one coach says, no one is enjoying the drop-off.

Fast-paced transition attacks have been replaced by grind-it-out fights with scores in the 50s and 60s. Scoring is at its lowest level in 15 years in Division I. Throw out the up-tempo styles of teams like North Carolina or Kentucky, and it’s even uglier.

Coaches and players offer explanations ranging from defenses, coaching styles, more physical play and improved scouting. Whatever it is, it adds up to fewer points.

“The last three years, it seems there’s been a confluence of events that have come together to put the game in a bad spot,” said Jay Bilas, a member of Mike Krzyzewski’s first Final Four team at Duke in 1986 and an ESPN analyst. “We’ve had three years where the quality of play has been low or lower. It doesn’t mean it hasn’t been competitive and it hasn’t been fun to watch, but nobody can tell me the quality of play is as good this year as it was in 2008 or 2009. It’s not.”

Division I teams are averaging 68 points per game this year, down three points from the 1997-98 season, according to STATS LLC. And there have been no shortage of unsightly scores rolling across TV tickers.

Michigan State 58, Ohio State 48.

Syracuse 52, Louisville 51.

Kansas 59, Kansas State 53.

Texas A&M 47, Texas Tech 38.

And those came in a four-day span in February. Things didn’t get much better in the conference tournaments, either.

Duke scored 60 and 59 points in its two Atlantic Coast Conference tournament games. Louisville beat Cincinnati 50-44 in the Big East final, Colorado beat Arizona 53-51 in the Pac-12 championship, while Vermont beat Stony Brook 51-43 in the America East final to prove the struggles weren’t confined to just the power conferences.

And fans shouldn’t get their hopes up that things will turn around dramatically in the NCAA tournament.

Last year’s Final Four should’ve been an omen of what was on the horizon. Connecticut’s defense overpowered Butler in a 53-41 victory that capped a weekend in which the teams averaged 56 points, the worst in the shot-clock era.

The decline has extended into this season and there are plenty of factors.

There’s the ongoing exodus of underclassmen to the NBA, leaving behind younger teams relying on players whose games haven’t reached maturity. The game is more physical, whether it’s defenders clutching and grabbing cutters or the bigger, faster, stronger bodies that keep crashing into each other in the paint.

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