Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Thoughts on the 30-second shot clock

After experimenting with the 30-second shot clock in the non-Big-Dance postseason tournaments, it looks like NCAA Men's Basketball is going to change the rule next year:
Men's basketball is likely heading toward reducing its shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds, NCAA rules committee chairman Rick Byrd told ESPN.com on Monday.
Why the change? Andy Katz's summary was spot-on, I think:  "The trend is for this committee to do something, and that's the easiest thing for them to change."

Simply put, a lot of people harp on college basketball for being too slow, and this will presumably add a few possessions per game, which will likely increase total scoring a little bit -- assuming that having less time to score doesn't decrease offensive efficiency.

Here are some musings on the possible outcomes of this rule change.

Best-Case Scenario

Teams very rarely use the full 35-seconds of clock anyhow, so the change to 30-seconds has no effect on offensive efficiency. In fact, it increases offensive efficiency because:

1) Many teams that do use the full 35 seconds are actually just standing around for 20 seconds to rest so that they can play better defense. (Dick Bennett's Wisconsin teams sometimes did this.) With less time to rest on offense, these defense-first teams will be worse on defense, which will increase offensive efficiency.

2) Many teams respond to the compressed shot clock by running full-court press, then fall back into a zone defense -- not with the hope of forcing turnovers, but with the aim of preventing teams from getting into their offense until little time remains on the shot clock. But most teams are pretty bad at this, and capable college guards shred the soft press leading to transition buckets and open shots, with just a few more turnovers. The game becomes more run and gun, more exciting, higher scoring, and even more efficient on offense.

Worst-Case Scenario

Smart coaches quickly adjust to this pro-defense rule change, and the inconsequential increase in possessions per game is more than offset by a drop in offensive efficiency. Teams like Louisville, West Virginia, and Texas (with Shaka Smart at the helm) utilize their stifling full-court press to eliminate even the possibility of running of offense, forcing not only turnovers but frequent shot-clock prayers. More and more teams adopt this style of play, leading to benches filled with long but not particularly skilled players. Without freedom of movement, half-court offense in 12 seconds becomes impossible, and games in the 40s become common.

Most Likely Scenario

Nothing much changes. The shot clock rarely comes into play as it is, and shaving off five seconds is inconsequential. The extra few possessions don't change efficiency, much, and total scoring changes 0-3 points per game per team. The college basketball haters continue to hate with their hateful hate, same as it ever was.

For what it's worth, here were the final results of the 30-second shot clock experiment this last postseason -- keep in mind, though, that this is a small sample that in total amounts to a typical weekend's worth of games during the regular season:


  1. I'm inclined to think nothing much will change, partly because most college coaches are extremely risk-averse, and I can't see a lot of them adopting a "40 Minutes of Hell" style even if it would benefit them greatly.

  2. Wow - I'm famous!

    In terms of the change in the shot clock, I don't expect much change... I'm reminded of the words of the Talking Heads (the band, not the yahoos on ESPN making up stories about Bo Ryan ripping on Duke for having one and dones) - "Same as it ever was"

    1. Which reminds me of the Rich Hall sendup on SNL: "You may ask yourself / Why such a big suit?"