NCAA Basketball Scoring by Minute

Previously, we looked into NBA scoring by minute as well as a breakdown of the type of scoring throughout the game.  In this post, we investigate the NCAA basketball scoring over the course of the game from a sample of games from the first half of the current season.  Unfortunately, we do not have easy access to all games so I took a sample of games from ESPN and collected the scoring data to get an idea of when points are scored and whether they are free throws, 2-pointers, or 3-pointers.

NCAA Basketball Scoring by Minute

Below is a minute by minute breakdown of points scored from the sample of games we selected.  There may be a little bit more variability per minute in our sample that in reality, but there are a few clear signals.

The most obvious signal is the increase in scoring late in games.  This is obviously related to late game urgency and in particular fouling and shooting 3-pointers to stage a comeback.  We will discuss this more later when we breakdown the scoring by type.

There also seems to be a slight increase in scoring in general in the 2nd half of games.  A bit of this corresponds to late game scoring, but it also seems as though teams come out of the locker room in the 2nd half ready to play as the scoring jumps up a little bit in those first 4 minutes of the 2nd half.  Overall, we found around 53% of points are scored in the 2nd half of games.

ncaa basketball scoring breakdown

Scoring data were collected from a sample of games in the first few months of the 2015-16 season.

NCAA Basketball Scoring by Type

Breaking down the total points scored, free throws account for around 20% of scoring, 2-pointers around 50%, and 3-pointers around 30%.  This is actually very similar to the NBA as the scoring breakdown was around 20% free throws, 55% 2-pointers and 25% 3-pointers.  We see slightly more 3-pointers due to more small lineups and a closer 3-point line.

ncaa basketball scoring breakdown by type

Scoring data were collected from a sample of games in the first few months of the 2015-16 season.

Free Throws

When I discussed scoring in NBA games, one of the main areas of focus was free throw shooting especially at the end of each half.  The same is true with the college game, but at a much worse level.  In the graphic above, we see a slight uptick in the last 4 minutes of the first half and a huge jump later.  Between 20-25% of all free throws are scored in the final 4 minutes of an average NCAA men’s basketball game.  This can make the games drag on quite a bit at the end.  Sometimes it can create drama but other times it can make the games very difficult to watch.  Late game free throws can also have an impact on the spread since teams fouling in close games can turn small leads into big ones or vice versa.

Breaking down the free throws by half, we found that around 40% are scored in the 1st half and 60% in the 2nd half.  This is a huge disparity and most of it occurs in the last few minutes of the game.

The other downside of fouling in the NCAA men’s game is that players become ineligible after 5 fouls.  This is in contrast to the 6 fouls of the NBA.  What it means is that early fouling can totally change a game as key players may be forced to sit so that they are available for the crucial late game push that is very common in these games.  To me, this is very unfortunate as it’s difficult to predict how close games will be called by the refs early and losing key players to fouls can take away the competitiveness that exists within the matchups.

2-pointers and 3-pointers

For the most part, the field goals tend to be consistent over the course of the game with most of the 4 minute ranges having around the expected 10% under uniform scoring.  There is a slight uptick of 3-pointers in the final 4 minutes.  This makes sense as teams down will play the foul and shoot 3-pointers game to try to make a late push.  Since this does not occur every game, the effect is not as obvious as it may be.  As mentioned, the 3-point line is closer to the basket than in the NBA, so these shots are much easier to score and teams tend to shoot more throughout the game.  In addition, there are teams that build their offense around 3-pointers, which is not quite as common in the NBA.  This was not quite the case with the NBA where teams would shoot more 3s early in the first and second half and then some late in games.

Breaking down the 2-pointers by half, we found that around 48% are scored in the 1st half and 52% in the 2nd half.  For 3-pointers, we found almost exactly 50% in each half.  What this says is that the NCAA men’s basketball game very heavily impacted by free throws.


Looking at the game minute scoring and then breaking it down by type paints a pretty good picture of the flow of the game in general.  Unlike the NBA, the field goal shooting is fairly consistent throughout the game.  This can make for very fun to watch games.  However, the games are often plagued by free throws especially late in games.  This breaks up the flow of the game and can make them difficult to watch despite the drama that is created by playing the foul game.

About Hugh Crews

Hugh is an independent statistical consultant and founder of Eligis Analytics. His love for sports statistics started at a young age when he would read player stats on the back of baseball cards.