With Virginia’s rise to the top of the NCAA ranks on the back of tremendous half court defense and efficient if not enthralling offensive execution, many have begun to clamor for rules changes to speed up the game and reintroduce offense to the equation. Chief among these ideas is the need to reduce the shot clock from 35 seconds to 30. In the eyes of many, this will increase possessions and stop teams from reducing the game to 35 second stalls. But, it is not hard to find statistical evidence to suggest that contrary to anecdotal impression, reducing the shot clock has been and will continue to be detrimental to the type of fast paced, offensive oriented game that proponents long for.
Case in point, I went back to the year of my birth, and the end of the Wooden era, 1975. In looking just at the NCAA tournament results, I saw games that usually ended in the 80s if not 90s. I found only two teams that failed to reach 60. One game finished 110-90. The Final Four produced scores of 95-79, 75-74, 92-85, 96-88 (back then they played a 3rd place game).
Contrast that with last years tournament. The final alone illustrates the point: UConn 60 UK 54. The bracket results are strewn with scores in the 30s, 40s, 50s, etc.
Of course, the reason for the power outage goes beyond the shot clock, but it is reasonable to suggest that offensive basketball was more the norm in the eras well before a shot clock of any kind. And while this may baffle many, it actually makes sense if you think it through.
I would argue in almost any venue, the advent of more rules prevents poor results, but also stifles greatness. If we equate great basketball with great offense and fast style of play (which I personally do not, but for arguments sake…) then we can see that the shot clock has eliminated the horrible. No longer can Cincinnati confront a powerful UK team by holding the ball and keeping the score in the teens. But, with few exceptions, the shot clock has also eliminated the great. Count the number of college games this season that have ended with both teams in the 90s. You won’t recall many.
So, why is the shot clock actually harmful? First, it makes teams play the clock. Coaches today equate good offense to forcing the defense to expend energy over 30-35 seconds, a quick shot these days is seen as allowing the other team to take a defensive break. The downside to this is the horrible shot selection and offense in general that occurs in the last few seconds of the clock. Next time you watch a game, count the number of off balanced, forced shots taken because the shot clock is running down. Is that the offense so many of us want to see?
Secondly, the clock eliminates or at least constricts team oriented offensive sets. Real motion offenses or classics like the flex are disappearing from the college game, and in their place are a series of 1 or 2 man quick hitters designed to play not the other team but the clock. It is nearly impossible now to run anything requiring continuity because if you turn the play over a couple times, the clock expires.
Lastly, the shot clock causes a homogenization of styles. Every college game today looks the same; sadly it has become the NBA with a longer clock and less talent. Because of the clock, everybody guards the same, everybody runs basically the same offensive sets, every game is a walk the ball up, half court battle. (Statistically around 86% of possessions in the NBA occur in the 1/2 court…is that what we want?)
So, if the idea is to take what has already been a detrimental concept, at least to fast-break, offensive basketball, then what would 5 less seconds per possession do? The answer: only make it worse. As a poster on a UVA site astutely noted, if you can’t find a good shot against the Cavs in 35 seconds, what kind of shot do you think you can get in 30?
Instead, the NCAA should consider eliminating the shot clock altogether, thus allowing teams to chose a style that works for them. Some teams may choose to continue to be slow and methodical, but others would almost certainly do the opposite. And while we as fans may have to endure an offensive clunker from time to time, we would once again get to enjoy the artistry of truly offensive minded basketball, a treat we have rarely seen in the shot clock era.