Number-Crunching Shows Surprises
Sharon senior Trenton Morrison strains toward the ball at The Sharon Academy in Sharon, Vt. on Wednesday, January 30, 2013. Valley News - Libby March
Numbers. When it comes to sports, we judge everything by numbers. They are the lifeblood of athletic competition. They are a way of also looking past the final score to see a deeper meaning. Take basketball, for instance.
For years, we have heard:
■ Basketball scoring is down;
■ Kids can’t shoot anymore;
■ The game has changed — and not for the better.
Is it true? Well, we may have the numbers to prove that.
During the regular season, only two Vermont boys teams scored 100 points or better in a game — St. Johnsbury beat North Country, 101-75, and Williamstown defeated Sharon Academy, 100-44.
Along with that, the Blue Devils also dropped 99 on Blue Mountain and another 90 on South Royalton.
There wasn’t a team in New Hampshire to hit the century mark.
While nine different teams hit 90 points or better during the year in New Hampshire, only eight boys teams did it in Vermont — although Williamstown achieved the milestone four times.
On the girls side, Proctor and Richford scored 90 points or better in Vermont, while only Bishop Guertin hit 90 in New Hampshire.
So where have all the shooters gone?
Sharon Academy boys coach Blake Fabrikant has an opinion.
“The fundamentals just aren’t there anymore,” says Fabrikant, who just finished his fourth year at Sharon. “You don’t see kids taking that mid-range jump shot anymore. Nobody takes a pull-up jumper.
“Everybody is thinking 3-pointers.”
Thinking 3-pointers is one thing; making them is another. Fabrikant noted one player on an opposing team came into their game averaging five made 3-pointers a game. It had his team worried. “But he was taking 15-20 a game to hit those five,” says Fabrikant. “So let him shoot.”
Fabrikant had a unique view of the vagaries of basketball scoring this winter. His Sharon team was on the short end of the 100-44 loss to Williamstown, only to turn around less than two weeks later and beat Concord, 90-53.
What does a coach do in those situations?
“Against Williamstown, I knew their size and athleticism was too much for us, so I tried to set small goals that we could reasonably achieve,” the Sharon coach says.
For instance, one goal might be to make Williamstown coach Jack Carrier call a timeout to adjust to something the Phoenix were doing on the floor. Another goal might be to try and score 50 points while holding Williamstown to under 80.
“We’re looking for attainable things that can make you feel better,” Fabrikant says.
But there is the reality of the scoreboard. Most of the games this year that found teams scoring 90 points were blowouts.
“Part of the problem is the mind-set kids develop as they fall farther behind,” Fabrikant. says. “They take the attitude of ‘what’s the point?’ after giving up layup after layup.
“At that point, I take a timeout and try and make them understand that they can’t give up; they’ve got to keep on playing and work through it. Make each possession count. It’s not fun, but it can make you stronger.”
But as hard as it is to suffer on the bench through a thrashing, a coach has other issues to deal with on the plus side of a blowout.
“It certainly feels better to win,” Fabrikant laughs, “but then you have to remember what the guys on the other bench are going through.
“It doesn’t feel great to run up the score.”
But it’s a hard and tricky fine line to walk. The subs, who tend to get the majority of playing time in blowout games, are determined to show their mettle, thus they are looking to score every time up the floor in a take-no-prisoners mode.
“It is a problem,” Fabrikant says. “Those guys want to make the most of their opportunity. You don’t want to lose your momentum, but we try to set restrictions — five passes before a shot, or things like that.”
But in the end, what goes around comes around. Especially in the smaller divisions where the talent pool is that much smaller. One day those one-sided outcomes will be reversed and the once-dominant team will find itself in the weaker position on the short end of a long score.
Because as any coach will tell you: Basketball has a way of taking care of itself.
Playing With Numbers
■ Locally, Newport and Sunapee were the only members of the 90-point club. The Tigers beat up on Hinsdale, 94-33, while the Lakers routed Wilton, 91-39.
■ The Upper Valley’s leading scorer on the boys’ charts was Mid-Vermont Christian’s Austin Sayers. Sayers averaged 23.73 points per game, hitting 207 field goals. By comparison, the entire Kearsarge girls team managed 221 field goals.
■ Three players averaged 20 points or better this season. Last year, there was only one. This year we had five 1,000-point scorers; last year, there was only one.
■ Lebanon, the N.H. Division II champ, was the lone girls team in the area to average 60 points per game hitting for 63.9. Only Newport (63.1) and Rivendell (64.9) reached that plateau on the boys side.
■ Defensively, the girls teams in the Upper Valley were rather stingy. Led by Rivendell’s 30.4 average, there were eight schools that held opponents to under 40 points per game.
■ On the boys side, the top defensive group was at Mid-Vermont, where the Eagles allowed 42.7 points per game.
Take a Number
■ Some of the No. 1 seeds in the New Hampshire boys playoffs had prolific scoring moments during the regular season. Division I titan Trinity (17-1) had a 92-42 win over Manchester West, en route to averaging better than 68 points per game. In Division II, Pembroke finished the regular season undefeated, averaging 63.1 ppg., while Conant (17-1) took the D-3 title and averaged a state-best 72.7 ppg., during the year.
■ Bishop Guertin was the runaway scoring leader in girls basketball with a 67.3 points per game average. But in the Division I finals, Bedford’s defense was the difference in a 39-38 victory.
■ Mascenic had an interesting season. The Vikings were torched by eventual Division III champ Conant, 92-26. Then four games later, the Mascenic boys scored the most points in the state this year in a 95-89 win over Monadnock. Go figure.
■ Four different teams in Vermont’s Division I broke the 90-point barrier. New Hampshire’s Division III had the hot hand with five different schools getting over the 90-point mark.
■ At least one team in every one of New Hampshire’s four divisions scored more than 90 points. In Vermont, no Division II team hit that plateau.
■ Then there is Manchester West. That New Hampshire girls hoop program can do nothing but get better after this season. The Blue Knights just finished 0-18.
During the season they averaged just 16 points per game — scoring in single digits three times, with 29 points — in the season finale — being the high point.
Meanwhile, they allowed 55 points a game, including an 82-9 defeat.
Durting the regular season, Lebanon played West twice. The first time, the Raiders won, 54-11. The second time around, coach Tim Kehoe sat his two high scorers in an effort to give the bench players more playing time and to keep the game more competitive.
The result? Lebanon won 69-25. In this case, the numbers don’t lie: Lebanon was the better team.
So pick a number, any number. Just remember that in any team game one statistic matters more than any other — and that is who ends up as No. 1.
Don Mahler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3225.