If I were a coach at a rebuilding program, the first thing I'd do is say my teams were going to play uptempo. And I actually would play uptempo. It makes perfect sense! Not only do fans get a more aesthetically pleasing (or at least exciting) brand of basketball, something to keep them interested while the program retools, but young recruits seem to prefer to play that style of basketball generally anyway. It's a selling point in at least two ways -- before and after the top talent arrives.
We've seen a host of coaches take this approach lately, perhaps most notably Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, who is starting to land some of Iowa's top players and beginning to nudge a football-obsessed fan base back toward Carver Hawkeye-Arena. Illinois coach John Groce, whose Ohio teams averaged an adjusted pace of 67.7 possessions per game in his four years at the school, has apparently taken note. According to sophomore forward Nnanna Egwu, Groce has installed a 24-second shot clock rule -- 11 seconds shorter than the usual college hoops clock (you know, just in case you didn't know that) -- designed to keep things moving during Illinois's summer open gyms and scrimmages:
To pick up the pace, Groce introduced a new rule to pickup games at Ubben Basketball Complex.
"We've got a 24-second shot clock now. That puts it into perspective for you, what our offense is going to look like," Egwu said. "It's fast-paced. Being able to get steals, get on fast breaks, quick outlets. And he's big on conditioning. Every player has to be conditioned, from the big men to the guards. We've all got to run and be able to run for 40 minutes a game."
That's all well and good for Illinois, but pace doesn't automatically produce wins; this is really more about Groce establishing his style early in his tenure. As Jeff Eisenberg notes, what's really interesting about this is what it means for the typically speed-averse Big Ten. The conference has a well-deserved reputation for fielding some of the slowest, most plodding, most physical basketball in the sport, at least at the high-major level.
In most seasons, the Big Ten ranks well below the other five members of the power six leagues in pace, which was the case again in 2011-12. It's just what Big Ten basketball is. But that may be changing. In 2011-12, the SEC averaged 63.3 possessions per game in 2011-12, not all that much more than the Big Ten's 62.6. Nine members of the league were their typical slow-paced selves, but Ohio State, Indiana and Iowa all pushed the pace past the 67-possessions-per-game barrier.
Now, Illinois is going to join the pace party. Even new Nebraska coach Tim Miles coached his former team, the Colorado State Rams, to a faster average adjusted tempo than what the Big Ten is typically used to. It may not be enough to change the perception of the Big Ten, or dilute the occasional (undeserved) scorn for Wisconsin's style, or override the pace-reluctant majority. Still, the 2012-13 Big Ten really does have a chance to be the fastest iteration of the league we've seen in decades. Oh, and it's almost certainly going to be the best league in the country. I, for one, can't wait.