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Many fouls, few points as season draws to a close

Tuesday - 4/9/2013, 6:50am  ET

Louisville's Stephan Van Treese (44) vies for a loose ball against Wichita State's Fred Van Vleet (23) as Louisville's Peyton Siva (3) looks on during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball semifinal game Saturday, April 6, 2013, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

EDDIE PELLS
AP National Writer

ATLANTA (AP) -- Once the nets are down and the confetti stops flying, it will be safe to open your eyes again, basketball fans.

Yes, 2012-13 has been one ugly season.

Scoring hasn't been this low in decades and the same for shooting percentages. Foul calls also are way down, which turned much of this year's action into something more like wrestling with occasional breaks for free-throw shooting.

Long delays for video reviews, confusion over the charge-block call, hand-checking, arm-blocking and always, always, an endless string of TV timeouts added to a feeling among even basketball lovers that many nights were hard to sit through.

"It doesn't take long, if you're really watching, to see what's happening and say, 'Oh my God, this is awful,'" said ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, who has been one of the most outspoken critics of the state of the game.

The season capped off by the Michigan-Louisville NCAA title game Monday night has been one marked by amazing parity -- something the leaders of most sports strive for, but one that may have played into the muddle that has become college hoops.

At one point, the top spot in The Associated Press poll changed for five straight weeks. Only one top-seeded team, Louisville, made it to the Final Four and there were two No. 4s and a No. 9; overall, this was only the fourth time since seeding began in 1979 that only one top-3 seed made it to the sport's biggest stage.

Better coaching, better preparation, more good players and the willingness of many of the best ones to enroll at less-heralded schools all played into the evenness. As early as junior high, players in the same age bracket go against each other on traveling AAU and All-Star teams. When college rolls around, the intimidation factor is gone. If today's dynamic were in place in the 1970s, almost every player at the Final Four would've played against Bill Walton at least once.

"Some of these guys couldn't score, so is that ugly?" said Bill Raftery, one of the sport's most effervescent color commentators. "Some would prefer high scoring and free-wheeling but preparation is such that it's not going to be that way. And the kids all know one another, so they're not in the least bit in awe of an opponent. You get Wichita State playing Louisville and they don't really give a damn. It's just another team to them."

It can make for unexpectedly close games and exciting finishes -- see No. 1 Louisville's come-from-behind 72-68 win over that plucky underdog, No. 9 Wichita State, in the national semifinals.

Still, the overall product suffered this year and the statistics back that up:

-- Teams averaged 67.49 points, lowest since 1951-52, decades before either the 3-point line or the shot clock were introduced to college basketball.

-- Field goal percentage was 43.3 percent, lowest since 1964-65.

-- Shooting from the 3-point line was a tad over 34 percent, the worst it's been since 1996-97.

-- The average team's 17.66 fouls per game were the lowest since the stats started being recorded in 1947.

-- March Madness did not provide a reprieve. This has been the lowest scoring version of the NCAA tournament since the 3-point line came into effect in 1987, at 131.2 points per game.

Given those numbers, it seems almost fitting that the tournament's most enduring moment was cringe-worthy: the compound leg fracture suffered by Louisville guard Kevin Ware. And then, in the run-up to the Final Four, there was the unsavory story of Mike Rice, coach of a losing program at Rutgers who got fired for his brutish tactics during practices.

"A failure of process," school president Robert Barchi called the Rice fiasco, which also led to the resignation of the athletic director, who failed to fire the coach when first presented with video evidence of his abuse.

While that story keeps unfolding over the offseason, the leaders in college basketball will spend the time off trying to clean things up on the court.

Raftery predicts the sport's powers will take a long look at the "arc" -- that befuddling semicircle drawn underneath the basket that a defensive player cannot be standing in if he hopes to draw a charge call.

"They're going to do some things with the rules," Raftery said. "But I enjoy the game, so it doesn't really offend me the way it does a lot of my pals."

But he, too, thinks the number of video reviews needs to be pared.

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