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A 45-second shot clock for college basketball? Why not?

April 29, 2015 Columns No Comments

If it wasn’t already the case, it seems that based on the ESPN report earlier this week, the 30-second shot clock for men’s college basketball is inevitable.

It’s not surprising news, but it is unfortunate. Not necessarily because a 30-second clock is an immediately terrible move-though it’s not a good one, and may even turn out to be a really bad one-but because it’s going to be done for the wrong reasons.

The idea that a 30-second shot clock will help the sport at all is highly debatable. Given such uncertainty of success, one would think there is a thicker threshold or burden of proof before a rule change was implemented than a few loud voices crying of the sport being in a “crisis,” while a few others push almost certainly because it is in their teams’ best interests.

Instead, it seems the coaches have bought the lines and withered to the pressure, while also neglecting the fact that they themselves are quite responsible for many blots there are on the sport right now. And if they don’t like them, they can fix many of them without rule changes.

There has been very little testing of a 30-second shot clock. What testing there has been shows that the shorter clock is anywhere from a slight improvement to a complete non-factor in increasing scoring and pace.

The shorter shot clock alone is not going to produce a major effect on scoring. The NIT, CBI and CIT showed as much in a limited sample this year. On the average, scoring was up anywhere from two points per game in the CBI to six in the CIT, a tourney that has a history of higher scores to begin with. Scoring particularly went down as the NIT continued, though, to 66.3 ppg from the quarterfinals through final.

If one thinks very low-scoring games are going to stop happening, think again. A shorter shot clock didn’t do anything to prevent Old Dominion and Illinois State playing a 50-49 game in the NIT, but the truth is we didn’t even need that game for proof.

Simple math should tell one that a 30-second shot clock is only going to produce a few more possessions each game. That 47-37 game Utah and Oregon State played in February might’ve been 52-41 at best with a 30-second shot clock.

A 52-41 game does absolutely nothing to address concerns about the game, at any level.

Certainly, at this point a 30-second clock should at least require further testing. In effect, though, this argument has been so rigged that it didn’t even matter what the results were. Even tiny improvement was going to be used as support that shortening the shot clock is the right thing to do.

The 30-second clock isn’t going to have a big effect on scoring or pace of play, and probably not even on how teams play offense, at least not in the short term. What it is going to continue to whittle away at long term is what makes college basketball unique, which is the variety of styles teams can play to find a way to win.

You’re going to see even more NBA-flavored, set-play offenses that come down to a pick-and-roll and a hurried shot late in the clock.

Heaven help us. The sport already had more ball screens than it ever needed. And now we’ll get more. Ugh.

The flood of them has already led to a host of stagnation and bad shots, often taken at the end of the shot clock. In other words, there is as much of a chance that a shorter shot clock will give us an uglier game-more rushed shots, bad shots and missed shots-as there is that it will help.

The sport needs rules that encourage offensive creativity, not stifle it. The shorter the shot clock, the more limited teams are in the number of different ways they can play. The teams with the best talent benefit; the rest do not.

The truth is, there are no more factual reasons to support a shorter shot clock than there are in favor of lengthening the clock. So let’s throw it out there.

College basketball needs a shot clock change-to 45 seconds. Why not?

History says it worked before. In the seven-year era when we had a 45-second shot clock and the three-point line from 1986-87 through 1992-93, scoring was never less than 72.8 ppg. It was 76.7 ppg in 1990-91, a number topped only in the 1970’s (when there was no shot clock at all, by the way). Why the shot clock was ever lowered from 45 should go down as one of the great mysteries in the sport’s history.

A longer clock also will tilt the balance of the game back to the offense by making it tougher to play defense for an entire possession. If, by some chance, a team does bleed the full shot clock (which didn’t happen often with at 45, as scoring statistics proved) then there’s a better chance of a defense being worn down by the end of those possessions. Build that up over an entire game, and suddenly it’s not as easy for coaches to devote so much time to defense when offense has a greater advantage than it does now.

Of course, a 45-second shot clock provides even more room for variety. Offenses have more time to reset. If an initial play doesn’t work (as it typically doesn’t in this highly scouted era) then there is time to do more than just run yet another high ball screen.

We’re realistic and know the 45-second clock is unlikely. Concerns that controlling coaches would just slow down even more are valid. From our view, adding time to the shot clock wouldn’t affect change nearly as quickly as if the game simply got back to freedom of movement rules.

At the same time, it is inarguable that the sport had better balance with a 45-second clock than it does now. The historical numbers show that shooting percentages were higher with the longer clock.

Most would argue that is because the players were better shooters and the game was not nearly as physical then. Perhaps, though, it also was because teams ran more motion offenses and took better shots? More passing, cutting and screening, and less dribbling, ball screens, and wild shots taken at the end of the shot clock. Clearly, there was more of a focus on offense then than there is now.

History says that, at the least, 45 seconds is an option that should be considered at this time when the sport is supposedly in such a downtrodden state. If it’s so important to make changes in the sport, it’s not too much to expect us to understand history …is it?

Twitter: @HoopvilleAdam

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