With the NCAA rules committee set to ratify changes to college basketball on June 8th, Wes and Jonathan debate one rule in particular....the reduction of the shot clock from 35 seconds to 30 seconds.
I think we can all agree that college basketball has become an uglier game over the past couple of decades. Scoring and field goal percentages are down to historic lows. The 67.7 scoring average per game last season was the second lowest since 1983. In fact scoring has declined in 13 of the past 15 seasons. Almost 10% of D1 schools shot under 40% last season (yikes!). There are many factors that have contributed to the state in which NCAA basketball finds itself. The rent-a-player is the prime suspect according to most. I think that is a part of the reason but not the only one. I will run through some of the other reasons in a bit but my prevailing thought is that trimming the shot clock down by five seconds will make the game any prettier.
Let's start here.......When the clock was trimmed from 45 seconds to 35 seconds in 1993 scoring dropped a total of five points per game over the next three seasons and has yet to rebound (no pun intended) to the 45-second shot clock level with the exception of a spike or two along the way. Sure the 30-shot clock might increase possessions and scoring but only minimally. When the 30-second shot clock was tested in the NIT, CBI and CIT postseason tournaments, teams averaged one more possession per half each and scoring was up a whopping one point per team. When rule changes were made to foul calls prior to the 2013-2014 season in hopes of improving scoring, it worked. Scoring jumped to over 72 points, but it was mostly due to more fouls being called and more foul shots being taken. So with more scoring the game was prettier, right? That seemed to be the NCAA's answer, but they soon found out the game became slower and more painful to watch so this past season the refs called less fouls and predictably scoring went back down. So we are back to where we started. (PS- They will be changing the foul rules back for the 2015-16 season, so get ready for an endless parade of foul shots again) All that to say the NCAA has tried to resolve the issue in the past to no avail.
So let's take a step back and talk about where the issue lies, again the one-year player is a big issue. If players were made to stay in college 3 years like football, developing another two to three years in college along side teammates who are doing the same would make for a better game. There is something to be said for the UNLV and Duke teams of the early 90s and their cohesiveness due to having seasoned players on their teams. Players leaving early also leaves inferior players to replace them. However the one-year removed from high school rule was instituted in the 2005 and this issue has been going on well before that so it can't be the only reason. I think another issue is the 3-point line. The 3-pointer eliminated the midrange game, which has lowered FG percentages. The 3-point line has also created an offensive perimeter, which cramps the game as outside shooters camp out there and defenders sag towards the basket causing less space on the floor for the offense to work. This was addressed when the line was extended to 20'9" prior to the 2008 season but the game hasn't improved because of that change. Another reason for the increase in the ugliness factor is scouting is more advanced. Teams are more prepared and have a better scheme in place to stop offenses. In the digital media age, that is hard to argue against. Every game is on TV and/or online and coaches have immediate access to start scouting their next opponent immediately after their game ends. So if scouting has led to defenses being better, how is cutting the shot clock down going to improve offenses?
There are many other factors that have attributed to the decline of college basketball, but needless to say reducing the shot clock will only speed offenses up, not make them more efficient. There are several improvements, which I think can help college basketball.
#1) Widen the lane in combination with extending the 3-point line to the NBA distance to provide more space for offensive players to create their shot and score.
#2) Implement a defensive 3-second lane violation to keep defenses from clogging up the lane.
#3) Shorten the backcourt violation to 8 seconds to get teams moving the ball up the court quicker.
#4) Since the NCAA is bound to the NBA on the one-year removed from high school rule, the NBA needs to adopt draft eligibility rules to those similar to college football or college baseball. This would keep kids in college longer.
#5) The last (and maybe toughest to institute) is changes to the AAU basketball structure. AAU is a glorified pick up game or NBA All-Star game. Defense is rarely emphasized and offense is loosely structured at best. The rise of AAU's popularity has stunted the growth of player's fundamental skills. Do not confuse me with Gene Hackman in Hoosiers, I am not going to tell you great teams pass five times before shooting. However there is merit to being able to effectively screen, move off-the-ball and pass which are skills that need to be honed prior to arriving on a college campus.
To me, the goal should be to provide fans a free flowing and efficient brand of basketball. I don't care that you give teams more possessions if they are just going to miss another shot anyway. Give me a game with high quality scoring over high quantity scoring any day. The 30 second shot clock will make me feel like I am watching a team of Antoine Walkers on the floor. They will score 60 points a game but take 80 shots to do it.
Get ready to slog through another rough season as the rules committee enacts more rules. Hopefully some of them are successful, but I doubt the 30-second shot clock will be part of the reason why. I will say that the NCAA rules committee has their head screwed on straight with a call to legalize dunks during warm-ups. Honestly, why was that ever banned?
The main focus of all sporting events is scoring, but in basketball it is even more so. In hockey, soccer, and football, there are positions made specifically to defend, but in basketball, every player's main priority is to score. As Wes pointed out, scoring has dropped almost every year in the past decade and a half. Since 2000, scoring has dropped from year to year 13 times. Overall shooting percentages have dropped 6 times in the past 8 season, yet before that it happened only 4 times out of 9 years. The tempo and pace of games has dropped as well. Ken Pomeroy started tracking possessions in 2002, when there were almost 70 possessions per 40 minutes per team. This past year that number dropped to 65.1, and has dropped all but 3 years since then, including a drop of 1.5 possessions from 2014 to 2015. So clearly scoring is down, but what can be done to combat this?
Basketball is the most enjoyable for fans when it is free flowing, fast paced, and has fewer stops in play. One rule change is not going to cure all that ails the game, but I believe that lowering the shot clock to 30 seconds is a good start, and can help begin to change the scoring drought. If teams had an extra 1 to 2 possessions per game by decreasing the shot clock, this would offset the drop in possession from 2013 to 2014. 2014 had the highest scoring per game at 71 pts since 2002. From 2013 to 2014 points per possession dropped 2.9 percent and field goal attempts went down by 1.36 per team. At the same time, steals went up 2.7 percent and turnovers went up 5.1 percent per possession. This seems to indicate the players just aren't as good as they used to be, right? Wrong.
The one constant in basketball has been free throws. While the shot clock and 3-point line have changed, the 15-foot free throw has been a mainstay. If the players are worse at shooting than before, historical numbers should be indicative. However, scoring peaked at 77.7 points per game in 1972, and free throw shooting was at 68.6 percent. Last year it was at 68.9 and in 2014 the number was the highest since 1979.
A lot of the blame is set on the one and done rule. The game is losing its elite players right when they're set to play their best. Before the NBA set its 19 year old rule in 2005, there was no rule, so some could say that the college game is getting more than they used to. 42 players from 1962 to 2005 were drafted straight from high school, with no college career. 2 of these players won rookie of the year, 3 have won an MVP, 8 have gone to an all-star game, and 7 have been named to the All-NBA team. The college fans never got to see what Stoudemire, Kobe, LeBron, or Dwight got to do in a conference or national tournament. In the 2014 draft, 42 underclassmen entered the draft, of which only 9 were freshmen. So were these 9 players that took advantage of the one and done rule to blame for the decline?
The last time they shortened the shot clock, the scoring increased, but then things reverted back to the low scoring. Games would be more fun to watch and attend if the game itself was able to maintain a steady pace. One of the easiest ways to increase scoring is to call more fouls, so the high percentage free throws would be attempted. However, this slows the game down. The other aspect that slows the game down is all the timeouts. There are 40 minutes of game time, and a minimum of 33 minutes of stoppage between mandatory media time outs and a halftime. This time doesn't include the timeouts that the coaches can use. In a game between Indiana and Ohio State, the final 3:37 of the game lasted 32 minutes in real time. This included free throws and replay reviews, but the coaches also called 6 timeouts in that span. A lot of coaches are slowing the game down with their game plans. How many players don't like playing up and down the court?
In a game between Iowa State and Oklahoma, a pair of top 25 teams, the coaches and refs let the players play. There were 73 possessions per team, there were only 26 combined fouls, and 20 free throws. Shooting percentage was near 50 percent, and there was only one player who is projected to be drafted, yet the score was 94-83. This is how the game should be played. Shortening the shot clock can help, but until all aspects and entities in the game are committed to changing, we can expect to see the same kind of game this season. The problem must be analyzed and solved by the rules committee.