More and more Maine high school basketball games are being won by blowouts.
A referee holds a basketball during a tournament game at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor in this Feb. 15, 2020, file photo. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

A big part of my website involves looking at high school basketball scores — hundreds and hundreds of basketball scores.

It doesn’t take long to notice patterns. For example, you quickly learn that a lot of the Class D girls games will be lower scoring than the AA boys games.

Also, patterns jump out at you. When a team is held to under 10 points, that jumps out at you. When it happens six times in a week? That really jumps out at you. Because that’s a lot. And these teams aren’t losing 10-9. They’re giving up an average of 70.5 points a game.

Yikes.

No one wants to watch a 71-9 game, not even the coach of the team that wins 71-9.

It feels like there’s more of these games this year. But our brains are tricky. They find patterns where none exist. But in this case, we’re not imagining things. There have been nine single-digit scores, and we’ve played a little more than a third of the season. In the last year before the pandemic there were 10 total. In the season before that, there were eight.

But, wait, it gets worse. A full 48 percent of games this season have had a margin of victory of at least 20 points (34 percent in 2019-20). Fourteen percent have been 40-point shellackings (9 percent in 2019-20). And there have been 57 games won by more than 50 points.

So, yeah. It’s bad.

Part of this comes back to competitive balance. But the Winslow girls are losing by 50.8 points a game, and they won a Gold Ball as recently as 2018. The Boothbay girls are losing by 49.3 PPG, and they won it all in 2019. These aren’t teams that would have been candidates for relegation even if we did that. So while competitive balance is clearly a factor, there’s more at play.

One major factor is that participation rates are down drastically over the last couple of years, and while the National Federation of State High School Associations — the governing body for high school sports — spins this as a pandemic-fueled blip, the trend pre-dates COVID. As in most things, COVID just dumped gas on the fire. Currently, this manifests itself at the junior varsity ranks. You don’t have to be paying much attention to see this, especially in girls basketball.

But I think there’s something else in play. Think back to the Steph Curry-fueled 3-pointer renaissance. Curry’s first MVP season was 2014-15, when this year’s seniors were in the fourth grade. We’re seeing the first wave of players who grew up in that reality and more 3-point shooting naturally leads to bigger margins.

It also leads to bigger comebacks. Just the other day, the Penobscot Valley girls came back down 19 late in the third quarter against one of the best teams in the state. Teams are building leads quickly, but they’re also erasing them more frequently than ever.

Ultimately, I don’t see this going away. And it’s probably not something you can fix.

Teams get blown out. Even good teams get blown out from time to time (especially if they’re playing the Brewer boys).

So we could go to running time when a margin hits a certain point, but then we’re just taking minutes away from the junior varsity kids.

If you want a solution to blowouts, I think it’s to build a deeper program, which is hard and it involves a lot of time watching 7-year-olds dribble the ball off their foot. Because the other factors aren’t going away. The good teams are going to get better at shooting from deep, not worse. Participation numbers are probably going to keep going down.

In the meantime, I think we’re going to see more junior varsity minutes. If we’re going to have all these blowouts, do you know what I want to see? I want to see a junior varsity kid get a triple-double in a varsity game. That’d make a 71-9 game worth watching.

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Lucas McNelly, Sports Contributor

Lucas McNelly is a filmmaker, writer, and the basketball data nerd behind MaineBasketballRankings.com. He lives in Damariscotta with his wife and their three kids.