In 1986 Texas won the NCAA tournament with a 97-81 victory over Cheryl Miller and USC. The Longhorns had also scored 90 points in the semifinals and had a 106 point effort in the second round. Thus ended what was at that point the lowest scoring tournament in NCAA history.
In 2009 the entire tournament field, which had expanded from the 40 teams of the 1986 Longhorns day to 64, managed only three 90+ point games among them, all in early round blowouts.
Why don't we see scoring like we did in the old days?I have a chart here that shows the scoring trend in the NCAA tournament:
NOTES: Upsets are any lower seed winning. Big Upsets occur when the teams are more than 4 seeds apart. Close are games decided by single digits or in overtime. Blowouts are games decided by 20 or more points. 80, 90, and 100 are how many times teams scored that many points in a game. Upset Games may differ from games because in the Final Four teams with identical seeds sometimes meet.
As you can see, there's a huge dropoff starting in 2002. The nine most recent tournaments are among the 11 lowest scoring ever. There had been at least one 100 point game in every tournament through 2001, since then we've had only three in nine years. The number of 80 point games was lower last year than it was in 1985, when the tournament was half the size it is now.
Why has scoring dropped off so in recent years? My first thought was a rules change. I couldn't think of a major one, so I consulted the NCAA book of rule changes. There were some changes made in 2001-02, but nothing that looked like it would affect scoring that much. Running the end line after a flagrant foul isn't five points per game different.
It's been suggested that the switch to predetermined sites rather than having the top four seeds in each region host might be part of the affect. That change went into effect starting with the 2003 tournament. However, this seems to be a tournament long effect, not something limited to the early rounds. Last year there were only two 80+ point games after the second round, easily the lowest ever. In 1986, which was the lowest scoring tournament ever at the time, there were 13 games of 80+ points from the Sweet 16 on.
The problem isn't limited to the tournament, of course. Scoring in WCBB has been trending downward (see page 25) steadily since the NCAA took over. Maybe it's just better athletes playing better defense...