Editor’s note: Would college basketball be better off if it reduced its shot clock from 35 seconds to the NBA-level 24? Eamonn Brennan and Myron Medcalf debate that topic in our latest Take Two Tuesday.
There are a few strange things about amateur basketball in this country, but one of the strangest is the lack of rule uniformity between various levels of the game. High school, college and NBA rules differ in game duration, the length of the 3-point shot, the number of fouls an individual player can commit, team penalties -- you name it.
But probably the biggest discrepancy -- and the one that would be easiest to erase -- is the varying length between NBA and college possessions.
It's time for college hoops to finally, mercifully adopt the 24-second shot clock.
Why? Two reasons:
1. College basketball would become a faster and therefore more entertaining game, and would do so overnight.
2. College basketball coaches could better prepare NBA hopefuls for at least one of the adjustments of the professional game.
To me, the first reason is more persuasive than the second. A 24-second shot clock would drain college hoops of much of the sloth we currently see, wherein teams walk the ball up the floor, run 25 seconds of offense and two or three different actions, try to find a shot, rinse, repeat.
It would lead to a more fluid, intuitive game in which players were more frequently able -- or even forced -- to make plays. It would emphasize the secondary break and good transition defense, and reward teams for crisp possessions and decisive moves. It would lessen the trend toward overcoaching. It would open the whole sport up. No more 50-45 logjams. No, thank you.
Developmentally, it just makes sense, even down to the high school level. I could argue the same for other rule changes -- like the length of games, the number of fouls and 3-point distance -- but all of those discrepancies account (or at least attempt to account) for wide differences in sheer athletic and technical ability. (Fair enough, but what other major American sport presents such rule differences between levels? Not soccer. Not football, at least not really. College baseball, with its metal bats, does, but that's more about safety than anything else.)
But as far as I can tell, the shot clock does little in this regard. (It's certainly not about safety.) It feels more arbitrary, less precise. A universal 24-second shot clock would allow players to begin understanding one single inherent pace of play from the moment they start playing competitive basketball. There would be no unnecessary transitions from one level to the next. Like soccer, the game is just the game.
And what would be the downsides? Some of college basketball's best and most consistent programs -- think Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Georgetown, even Michigan -- would have to at least slightly speed things up. Oh well. They've done that before, in 1993, when the 45-second shot clock was reduced to 35. Everyone figured it out then, and they could figure it out again.
And college basketball -- as both a product and a pathway to the pros -- will be that much better for it.
-- Eamonn Brennan
I think the argument surrounding the 35-second shot clock in college basketball stems from a never-ending and fruitless pursuit to mimic the pro game. The NBA features the run-and-gun basketball that many elite prospects crave. College coaches have recognized the appeal -- to both TV execs and recruits -- and shifted their entire offensive and defensive schemes to accommodate.
Everybody wants to race up and down the floor. Most teams, however, can’t do it with the flair of the Miami Heat. Perhaps Kentucky and a few other teams equipped with lottery picks can imitate the NBA’s speed and execution. But it’s rare at this level, and that’s why the 35-second shot clock is necessary.
I agree with the spirit of Eamonn’s argument. I think the deliberate slow-downs should go. And yes, I’d pay to see North Carolina against Duke with a 24-second shot clock. But I can’t recommend a permanent change at the expense of the diversity the current rules permit.
These days, the NBA has five teams with a legitimate shot at the championship. The beauty of college basketball, however, is that a chunk of the 68 squads that enter the NCAA tournament have a chance.
In March, Rick Majerus’ coaching prowess and tempo control helped Saint Louis beat a faster, more talented Memphis squad. In the Sweet 16, Wisconsin’s notoriously slow pace nearly led to an upset over a Syracuse team that epitomized “long and athletic.”
In the two years that Butler reached the national title game (2010, '11), it finished No. 292 and No. 277 in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted tempo ratings. Brad Stevens didn’t have to push the pace to win. Instead, the Bulldogs played the measured, rugged basketball that turned every March Madness matchup into a scrap. And it worked.
Each year, a dozen or so elite athletes enter the mix at the collegiate level. The next tier, however, features the above-average players who anchor most programs. With so many prospects represented in the latter group, coaches need flexibility to plan according to their talent.
Strategy still matters at this level. So that additional 11 seconds gives those conductors more time for that extra pass, that extra shot, that extra ball screen or that extra defensive adjustment that can lead to a critical stop.
It’s not always sexy. And I’m not asking for more 20-point halves that send the game back to the 1950s. But the college product is distinct because more than 340-something Division I teams use various styles. The 35-second shot clock is the equalizer that encourages the variation that not only separates the college game from the pros but also gives the NCAA’s Davids the rocks they need to fight off its Goliaths.
-- Myron Medcalf