College basketball is looking for a way to fix scoring. Last season was the lowest-scoring year since 1952. An effort by the NCAA to reduce physical play was a good first step to help our nation's scoreboards; the other solution could be on the coaches: play faster.
That's what can be deducted from studying a new statistic on Ken Pomeroy's site—average length of possession. Pomeroy introduced the statistic Tuesday. It's a way to see which programs truly like to play fast.
It's not too shocking to see that the best offenses in the country, on average, tend to play faster than the worst offenses. According to Pomeroy's numbers, the 30 most efficient offenses in the country average 17.6 seconds per possession. The 30 least efficient offenses average 18.4 seconds per possession.
It's not always a hard and fast rule, however. Michigan, the most efficient offense last season, averaged 18.9 seconds per possession, which is higher than the national average of 18.1.
That's not to say that John Beilein prefers patience over quick-hitters. In fact, Michigan shot an effective field goal percentage of 52 percent in the first 10 seconds of a possession last year compared to 44.9 percent on possessions that took 11 or more seconds, according to Hoop-Math.com.
Some coaches build their offenses to try to score quickly—North Carolina, for instance—and some want to milk the clock—see Bo Ryan at Wisconsin.
Fred Hoiberg at Iowa State is one coach who prefers a quicker pace. Hoiberg told me earlier this summer that getting up a quick shot is their first goal on every possession, and the physicality of the game is factored into that decision.
"We shoot a lot of transition threes," Hoiberg said. "I think that's a great time to get shots before the defense gets set. The way the rules of our game are, you can beat people up in the half court, so we try to get those shots up before that happens."
Some coaches, as Pomeroy suggested, say that they want to play fast, but don't really follow through. The average length of possession is a good lie-detector test, he says.
Hoiberg is a man of his word. Iowa State's average possession last season was 15.8 seconds—ranking 12th-quickest in the country—and it worked; the Cyclones ranked sixth in adjusted efficiency.
Studying the numbers, it's clear Iowa State had one of the best quick-strike offenses in the country, although Hoiberg's team was pretty efficient no matter when it got up a shot.
|Rebound, 0-10 sec. eFG%||Rebound, 11-35 sec. eFG%||Opp. score, 0-10 sec. eFG%||Opp. score, 11-35 sec. eFG%||Steal, 0-10 sec. eFG%||Steal, 11-35 sec. eFG%||Dead-ball turnover, 0-10 eFG%||Dead-ball turnover, 11-35 eFG%|
Note: Percentages via Hoop-Math.com.
Hoop-Math is a handy site to figure out how often a team strikes quick and the success rate. Since I don't think it's fair to factor in percentages off a steal (many steals lead to easy fast-break layups) and Iowa State is a rare exception where the percentages are flipped, I took those numbers out of the equation. I pulled out the Hoop-Math numbers following a rebound, made basket or dead-ball turnover for the 30 most efficient offenses to see if trying to score quickly has its advantages.
The numbers show that it's rare to find a team that is better late in the clock than early. Out of the 30 most efficient offenses, only four teams (Duke, Colorado State, Creighton, and Michigan State) shoot a higher effective field goal percentage in two of the three categories. Thirteen of the 30 teams shot better in the first 10 seconds of the clock across the board, and not one team was better late in the clock in all three categories.
Here are a few teams with the widest margins.
|Rebound, 0-10 sec. eFG%||Rebound, 11-35 sec. eFG%||Opp. score, 0-10 sec. eFG%||Opp. score, 11-35 sec. eFG%||Dead-ball turnover, 0-10 eFG%||Dead-ball turnover, 11-35 eFG%|
So why doesn't everyone try to play fast?
College basketball has gradually slowed down the last 20 years, which has influenced scoring numbers. The reason for this decline in pace of play has just as much to do with defensive philosophies as offensive philosophies. Coaches have figured out what the numbers show: it's harder to score late in the shot clock than early.
Many coaches have figured out that they can cut down on transition opportunities by sending fewer players to the offensive glass. There's a direct correlation between the decline in offensive rebounding and the game slowing down.
|Year||Off. Reb. %||Adj. Tempo||PPG|
Pomeroy writes of slow play:
I'm skeptical that it's because coaches are control freaks who insist on calling set plays instead of letting their teams get easy buckets in transition. Many coaches are doing more things to prevent opponents from shooting quickly.
I'm somewhat with him there. It's obvious that it's harder to play fast than it was 20 or 30 years ago, but that doesn't mean it's impossible. I don't think there are any coaches who never want their teams to get out on the break, but I do think you have coaches who would rather run sets than try to push the pace at every opportunity.
Hoiberg has made it work and isn't afraid to give his players the freedom to take a quick shot. His team rarely struggles to score—the Cyclones were held below 70 points only four times last season.
It's hard to believe that scoring numbers will ever reach what they were in the early 90s. Physical play is the No. 1 issue haunting college basketball's scoreboards, and hopefully officials start to clean up the game next season. But coaches don't just need to study history to know that playing faster put more points on the board. The numbers, from the current era, suggest it's still worth trying to speed up the game when you have the ball.