SYRACUSE, NY – MARCH 27: Denzel Valentine #45 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrates after defeating the Oklahoma Sooners 62 to 58 during the East Regional Semifinal of the 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at the Carrier Dome on March 27, 2015 in Syracuse, New York. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Last season college basketball reached a breaking point.  The quality of play became almost untenable at times with so many stops and starts it felt like sitting in a traffic jam on the Los Angeles freeways.  Games were devolving into glorified free throw shooting contests with way too many fouls, way too many timeouts, and way too little action.  Scoring reached an all-time low and attendance went down as well.

This past offseason, the NCAA introduced several rule changes to try to help speed up the game and make it a more attractive spectacle.  The NCAA reduced the shot clock from 35 seconds to 30 seconds, eliminated the 5 second rule, extended the arc underneath the basket.  Perhaps most importantly from a television point of view, they finally answered prayers of fans everywhere and reduced the number of timeouts possible by allowing team timeouts to double as media timeouts.

Thus far through the early parts of the season, the changes appear to be working.  Scoring is up and free throws are down, meaning more points per game are coming from general play.

If you enlarge the graphic, you’ll see the direct comparisons between this year and last year’s averages.  Scoring is up from 67.7 to 73.0 points per game.  Total free throw attempts are actually up by one free throw per game, but because there are more possessions per game (67.7 to 71.5) that means there are fewer attempts from the charity stripe on average.  Shooting percentages and points per possession are up as well.

Statistically speaking, games are faster paced with better scoring efficiency.  We can only hope that these trends continue through conference play instead of NCAA basketball reverting back to the crash-bang style of basketball too often favored by coaches and referees.

Consider me hopeful, yet skeptical, that these trends will continue.  As we move into conference play, it’s hard to imagine notoriously controlling college coaches not reverting back to form and clamping down on free-flowing offense.  The NCAA’s rule changes are a decent start, but the game won’t fundamentally improve from a watchability standpoint until programs embrace them.