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There are only two great plays: "South Pacific" and put the hall in the basket.
South Pacific closed on Broadway 42 years ago. From all available evidence, the final curtain may also be coming down on putting the ball in the basket.
That sound you hear across the land is not string music but percussion quintets in dissonant concert. Take Connecticut's Antric Klaiber, a 6'10" freshman whose given name bears a disconcerting resemblance to Antarctic. He missed the first 20 shots of his college career before finally scoring on Dec. 30 against Hartford, and to do so he had to throw down a dunk. Klaiber has a soul mate of sorts in Indiana senior center Todd Lindeman, a 44.9% foul-shooter this season who clanged seven of his eight free throws in a game against Michigan on Jan. 23. No wonder NBA scouting director Marty Blake, who sees as many college games as anyone, says, "Shooting is really awful. And sometimes it's worse than that."
Worse than awful? That would be Temple against UMass last Thursday, when the Owls missed 50 of their 63 shots, including all 16 three-pointers that they attempted, in a 59-35 loss. And Michigan State against Wisconsin on Jan. 17, when the Spartans missed their first 13 shots and made only 4 of 26 in the first half of a 61-48 loss. And Vanderbilt against Alabama on Jan. 3, when Vandy, one of four teams to make at least one three-pointer in every game since the shot was introduced in 1986-87, failed to convert a three until 1:50 remained in the 80-71 loss—by which time the team had bricked 19 consecutive treys. And Morehead State, which lost to Kentucky 96-32 on Dec. 16 while shooting...brace yourself now...13.8%.
Sure, Morehead-Kentucky was a shameless mismatch, ugly from the moment it was scheduled. So were Chicago State-Missouri (the Cougars shot 26.2% in a 117-45 loss on Dec. 2) and Cornell-Kansas (the Big Red sank 12.0% of its shots in the second half of a 100-46 loss on Jan. 2). But even well-matched opponents are laying bricks at a rate worthy of a Commodores song. Maine and Vermont shot a combined 34.7% in the Black Bears' 77-48 victory on Jan. 9, as the Catamounts' Eddie Benton, the eighth-leading scorer in the nation going into the game, went basketless in 10 attempts. New England winters can be cold, but that was ridiculous. "I saw one game where a kid I was scouting went 2 for 12, and the only two shots he made were dunks," says Blake.
Shooting is so uniformly hideous these days that all this off-the-marksmanship hardly seems to matter. Delaware shot 29.6% against New Hampshire on Jan. 6 and won. Virginia beat Richmond on Dec. 9, even though it shot 5 for 29 in the second half. Even ball-contro Temple—could all those 6 a.m. practices have left the Owls permanently bleary-eyed?—has beaten a No. 1 team (Kansas) and a No. 2 (Villanova) despite shooting a paltry 37.8% from the field for the season.
Where are shooters like Mike Evans, who, while playing guard at Kansas State in the 1970s, launched 900 jumpers a day during the off-season? Guys like UCLA's Lynn Shackleford, Providence's Joe Hassett and George Washington's Brian Magid, who all had the misfortune of playing pre three but whose classic jumpers bore the mark of untold hours of careful nurturing? 'The Rick Mounts and the Austin Carrs don't exist anymore," says Pitt coach Ralph Willard. "I went to the ABCD Camp [for top high school players] this summer and after two days turned to someone and said, 'How many three-point shots have you seen made?' The whole game for kids is to take it to the hole and try to dunk on somebody."
Field goal percentages began to trace their nearly uninterrupted decline a dozen years ago (chart, page 62). This season, when the NCAA released its midyear statistical analysis of games through Jan. 14, overall field goal shooting had fallen once again, to 43.8%, which was the sorriest since 1968-69. Three-point shooting, down every season since the trey's introduction in 1986-87, is currently at a low of 34.1%.
Further, college players are making a mess of the most controllable shot in the game. After topping out at 69.7% in 1978-79, foul-shooting declined steadily to 67.6% last year and this season was down another full point at midseason to a look-a-gift-horse-in-the-mouth 66.6%. For the first time since the '57-58 season, college kids can't even make two out of three unguarded.
Guarded or unguarded, close in or far out, why can't Johnny shoot? Theories abound, but most take into account some combination of the following: the increase in three-point shooting, a renewed emphasis on defense and the introduction of the shot clock in '86-87.