Posted April 17, 2013

Fixing the game: The fallacy of the shorter shot clock

Rules
Shortening the shot clock isn't the only way to fix college basketball's scoring decrease. (Porter Binks/SI)

Shortening the shot clock isn’t the only way to fix college basketball’s scoring decrease. (Porter Binks/SI)

College basketball definitely needs some rule changes. This past season was the lowest scoring in six decades and average tempo across Division I continues to slow. In order to combat that, more and more support is developing for a shortening of the shot clock, to encourage more possessions in a game, which would assumedly raise scoring.

In the last part of this audio clip, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo is the latest to discuss the shot clock question, noting that Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said in a recent meeting that men’s college basketball is “the slowest game in the world.” Technically speaking, that’s true, as the NBA, international and even women’s college basketball shot clocks are shorter than the current 35-second limit in the men’s college game. But shortening the shot clock would be a faulty fix for what currently ails the game, as too many people are conflating “slow” with “overly physical” and “overcoached.”

On a base level, no one is forced to use all 35 seconds to take a shot on any possession, and no defense is required to allow an opponent to use the full clock on any given possession. Offenses are looking for their preferred shot and defenses have the right to try to dictate when and how that shot will come. That ongoing battle is part of what makes games with style contrasts interesting. “Slow” basketball teams can run wonderful, entertaining offense. “Fast” teams can look like complete garbage. It’s not the tempo of a team that’s appealing. It’s the fluidity and effectiveness of its play (along with the overall talent level of the players and what kinds of plays they can make).

College basketball can effect more change simply by cracking down on handchecking and chucking cutters in the lane, and start giving the benefit of the doubt on block/charge calls to the offense. Forcing more possessions into the current overly physical box could actually have a worsening effect, especially as more and more coaches continue to eschew offensive rebounding in order to limit transition opportunities for opponents. Teams will continue to end up in more halfcourt sets, but now with fewer seconds to operate, which will definitely lead to more shots (and more turnovers), but almost certainly not better shots or more artful possessions.

In addition to cleaning up contact, there should be a significant cut in the number of timeouts per game. In national TV games, you have eight media timeouts plus all of the full and 30-second timeouts available to each team. There’s no way basketball requires upwards of 20 time stoppages in a 40-minute game. That further enables in-game overcoaching, which is curious in an era where complaints about the overall talent levels in the college game (and, especially, the dearth of quality point guards) are rampant. So we want to shorten possessions, overcoach them, and assume hundreds of teams without good lead guards will be able to execute consistently against increasingly sophisticated defenses?

Increased homogeneity is not good for the college game. Whether it’s the undercutting of alternate styles of play or the increase in NBA-style isolations that would result from a shorter clock, it would, over time, create a more standard product that’s being run by hugely varying levels of talent. Maybe Kentucky could play the new way effectively, but what about Western Kentucky? Additionally, forcing more possessions into a game is likely to reduce upsets, as teams with lesser talent will have to outperform for more trips down the floor. Is a more generic approach with fewer shockers what you want from your regular season, let alone from the first weekend of the NCAA tournament?

Lowering the shot clock to 30 seconds wouldn’t destroy college hoops, but it should be considered only after other changes are made. Once the game is cleaned up and flowing better, then you can get a fair sense of whether the “slowness” of the game needs to be changed. While it may benefit the overall development of basketball to have all players playing under more consistent rules, it wouldn’t be good for the college game itself. Let the D-League prep players for the pros. Our game doesn’t have to be more of a de facto minor league setup than it already is.

(h/t @MattNorlander)

7 comments
BryanCustard
BryanCustard

Want a better game? Get Espn and the rest of the talking heads to ignore the playground style highlight plays and focus on fundamnetal basketball for their highlights. Bet the players learn real quick how to get back on the highlight reel, and maybe the kids that will grow up to play college basketball will start to focus on those parts of their games as well

hirematters
hirematters

We just had the greatest tournament in years.  Nothing needs to change - the game is great and exciting to watch as it is.

Iowa
Iowa

Terrific article. Glockner nailed this from almost every angle. History has proven scoring and length of shot clock have no correlation whatsoever, scoring was much higher with a 45-second clock and when there was no shot clock. Officials need to stop allowing defenses to hammer offensive players, and coaches like Izzo need to stop choking off offenses and let their guys play. Then scoring will increase. College basketball's strength is its diversity in styles, it doesn't need to be a less-talented version of the NBA. The shorter the shot clock, the less diversity in the game.

Bob Murphy
Bob Murphy

Amen!! The 24 sec shot clock has done nothing to improve the NBA.  Bump and grind needs to be taking out of the college game.  Didn't we just finish one of GREATEST,EXCITING tournaments in the last ten years?  Drop a couple of those time-outs; stop all the hand-checking & NBA holding in the post,  and get back to one of the greatest sports ever invented.  By the way, lets stop these coaches from over-signing players and make all scholarships good for at least two years, then let the players transfer and play immediately if the coach does not want to keep them around.

zeebaneighba
zeebaneighba

I don't see charging as a problem. In fact, I think a defender ought to be entitled to his position, regardless of whether he's squared to the offensive player or not, as long as he has his feet set before the offensive player takes his final step before contact. Hand-checking and bumping definitely need to be cracked down on, though, as well as traveling on drives to the hoop. Overall, I think that would make for a cleaner game with more scoring.

GrantNewsham
GrantNewsham

@hirematters No the game is not great. It's been dreadful for years. The tournament this year was better than in recent times - though the quality of play was low for the most part.

It is a fact that most college ball is unwatchable or close to it. It always has been over-coached - since the coaches like to think they are the stars - ally that to, again a fact, most of these kids cannot play the game worth a damn, the good ones jump as quickly as possible to the pros - and you are left with a borderline garbage product.


Iowa
Iowa

@zeebaneighba The problem is, defenders aren't even in position half the time anymore. But officials have it so ingrained in their heads that whenever its close, the benefit of the doubt should go to the defense, that they are continually erring on the side of rewarding late defense rather than offense. People can handle some 62-60 games; they don't need a heaping helping of them like we had last season. Offensive players bring some of it on themselves now because they have no skill to pull up and think they need to drive to the rim every time they put it on the floor. But Glockner is correct-when in doubt, the benefit should go to the offense, not the defense.