Kentucky Basketball: Is a 30-second Shot Clock A Good Idea?

Ronald Martinez

The ACC will experiment with the 30-second shot clock early next season.

After every college basketball season, there are always some rule changes considered. This season, the ACC will experiment with a 30-second shot clock in exhibitions this upcoming season. Consider:

A shot clock hasn't always made the game faster. The 45-second clock worked like a charm; teams quickly blew past the limits of the incentive. But the 35-second clock correlated, if not caused, a drastic, decades-long drop in average possessions per game. Coaches tightened their grips. Scoring went down not because offenses got worse, but because games got slower. The trend finally abated last season, but compared to 30 years of sloth, the uptick was marginal. This is another argument against a shorter clock: The last time we went down this road, the game got slower. Correlation or causation?

Good question, and I don't have a ready answer. I think there is a "perfect" number for the shot clock, and I suspect it is somewhere between 35 and 25 seconds. The 24-second clock in the NBA seems too quick, allowing teams to run too little offense. I believe it is one of the reasons why the NBA has gone almost exclusively to pick-and-roll, because it doesn't require a lot of time to create or develop.

We see much more pick-and-roll now in college, but mainly for teams that have a fairly high personnel turnover like Kentucky. One reason is because defending it well is extremely hard, and the other is it is fairly simple to teach. Now, it's not simple to execute it at the level we see in the NBA, but it isn't that difficult to get to an acceptable level fairly quickly in college ball. It's easier to teach than it is to defend.

At the same time, 35 seconds often seems too long in college basketball, and teams have figured out ways to run a whole lot of offense in that time, which can really slow down the game. Ken Pomeroy points out that the pace (possessions per game) increased significantly early last season, presumably due to the "new emphasis" on impeding player movement. As the season wore on, that trend reversed:

Actually, recent games have become even slower than at the same time last season. Last year, the 67 NCAA tournament games produced an average of 65.0 possessions per 40 minutes, and that was in a record-slow season. This season, the tournament has produced an average of 63.5 possessions per 40 minutes.

Pomeroy blamed that on what he called a "low-turnover environment," which was created presumably by less effective presses and pressure defenses, enabling teams to run more offense.

The theoretical maximum number of possessions at 35 seconds per shot clock is 68.5 if both teams run to the end of the clock. with 30 seconds, that number becomes 80. So if we are going to interpret the rules in ways that make it more difficult for presses and pressure defense to be effective, then it makes sense to reduce the shot clock to compensate for the tendency to run more offense.

The women's game has a 30-second clock, and it seems to create a better pace without feeling like the mad rush of an NBA shot clock. I'll be watching this closely to see how it works, and I think it might make sense to go this route. It has the additional benefit of homogenizing men and women's basketball, which I think is desirable.

Summing up, let's get serious about changing the shot clock to 30 seconds. 35 seems too long to me right now.

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