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From 35 to 30: Why NCAA Basketball Needs to Shorten the Shot Clock

Posted by RichieZ23 on April 8, 2010

Alright, let’s get one thing out of the way first of all.  I fully believe that defense wins championships, and you won’t convince me otherwise.  I have no problem with defensive oriented gameplans.

A slow-it-down defensive oriented approach got Butler into the National Title game and nearly won it for them, as Gordon Hayward almost hit a game winner from half-court, but ultimately Duke endured and won 61-59.

Gordon Hayward almost won it all for Butler in the fifth lowest scoring National Title game over the last 45 years. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Plodding Along

61-59, the fifth lowest National Championship game score over the past 45 years of college basketball.  Besides the final minute or so, the game was hardly entertaining to watch.  Take out the fact that it was Butler going for the Cinderella season, and you have a decent game of basketball.  Kyle Singler tried to perfect the Cinderella season for Butler and give the game away for Duke , committing an out-of-control traveling violation, and later jacking up an air-ball on a wide open look from 16-feet with under a minute remaining.

Getting back to the point, it was a low scoring game.  Not since 2002 when Maryland defeated Indiana 64-52 (another boring game) has a National Championship game had such a low score.

Like I said from the start, I’m fine with defensive oriented basketball, and I understand the concept of taking the ball out of your opponents hand to limit their possessions, but man, you’ve got to score the ball as well.  Why was the shot clock developed in the first place?  To speed up the pace of the game, induce higher scores, and make the end of games more exciting.

Time For a Change

Basketball has obviously changed drastically from its early days.  The NCAA has recently recognized this, and has made changes over the last few years.  They moved the 3-point line back to 20.9 feet beginning in the 2008 season.  They also shortened the shot clock from 45 to 35 seconds in 1993.

The NCAA needs to make another change to the shot clock, and seriously consider adapting the rules and shortening the shot clock from 35 seconds to 30.

The formula used to determine the shot clock was to take the average amount of shots in a game and divide it by the total number of seconds in a game.  Using the formula of a 35-second shot clock, the average number of shots in a game is 68.57.

You’ve got to be kidding me.  68 shots?  In the fifth lowest scoring national title game over the past 45 years, there was a combined 120 attempted shots.

58 for Butler, and 52 for Duke.  Most games are not going to feature 120 shots, as that number is a bit off-par, but during a typical college game, I’d say a range between 80-120 shots could be attempted.

30 Seconds

So let’s use the most conservative number that is reasonable, and plug in 80 shots into the formula.  We take the 2,400 total seconds of a game divided by 80 total shots, and we have a 30-second shot clock, and a much more exciting style of basketball.

The NCAA needs to shorten the shot clock to 30 seconds.

But the best thing about shortening the shot clock, is it is an advantage to both the offense and defense.

Back when the NCAA shortened the clock from 45 to 35 seconds, defensive minded coach Kevin O’Neill, now head coach at USC but then with Marquette disliked the move at first..  He later admitted he preferred it over the 45-second clock.

“It took me about 10 games to figure that out,” O’Neill said.  “If you play man-to-man defense the way we do, it becomes an advantage, because people have to shoot early instead of keep holding the ball.”

“I think the shortening of the shot clock has created extra pressure to make shots as the clock goes down. I think NBA guys handle that very well. I think college guys handle it very badly.”

While O’Neill admits it helps defensive oriented teams, it will also however, help offenses by the simple fact of adding more possessions to the average game.  The more possessions means more points, and at the very least, more excitement.

The NCAA has changed the rules on this once before, and they should consider doing so again and change the length of the shot clock to 30 seconds, making the game more relevant to the way it is played today.


22 Responses to “From 35 to 30: Why NCAA Basketball Needs to Shorten the Shot Clock”

  1. Josh Q said

    I would disagree, mostly because I enjoy the variation of offenses used in the college game. The effectiveness of these offenses (particularly Princeton or Motion) is based on continuing to move the ball and wear down the defense. Additionally, the fast-tempo offense has already become more common in NCAA (i.e. Houston and VMI). But similarly to professional basketball, it has had limited effectiveness in the post-season. I feel like implementing a shorter shot-clock will cause more teams to take this approach and further dilute the reliance on scheme/system over athletic ability.

    • RichieZ23 said

      Fair enough.

      I like the variation of offenses in college ball as well — it’s what sets it apart from the NBA. Most NBA teams don’t run very many plays if any at all in the halfcourt.

      But I dont think shaving five seconds off the shot clock is going to dilute any scheme or system. You can still run plenty of offense in 30 seconds. Hell, most plays only take 8-9 to develop anyway.

      What it will cut down on, is players standing between the 3pt line and half court, wasting time off the clock because they don’t want the other team to have the ball.

      I’m not saying every team needs to run an up-tempo offense. Like I said from that start, I’m all in favor of defensive oriented gameplans (as long as it does not involve intentionally fouling Shaq in the 3rd quarter like Greg Popovich) but just because you play defensive oriented basketball does not mean that offense should be nonexistent. Uptempo styles can win championships if they play defense. Look at Los Angeles in NBA and UNC last year who won it all.

      I just thought that besides the last minute of the game, that was quite possibly the worst National Title game I’d seen since…2002, the other low scoring game.

      • Josh Q said

        I agree with your assertion that this style of game makes for a boring title, but I think there are mitigating factors. Neither of these teams have star players, they both are built on being consummate “teams.” Against Michigan State, Butler had 4 players score in double figures, with their leading scorer having 12 points.

        I think you are incorrect about the increase in game tempo however. Specifically, consider press defenses, which Louisville and Missouri have been effective at running. Even with offenses aiming to only beat the 10 second clock, these defenses still rush the offense and create turnovers. A good press should force the offense to take at least 8 seconds to get the ball over half-court. After dropping into their base defense, it takes maybe 3 seconds to read the defense and call a play. If your players have to get to a different position to execute the play, that could mean another 3-5 seconds. That could use up half of your shot clock right there. While the likely increase in press defense would make this fun to watch, it again may limit the offenses you can run (even an 8 or 9 second offense could be feeling rushed).

      • RichieZ23 said

        You’re right that some teams dont have star power, but that’s the beauty of college basketball. You don’t just need star power to score. I can’t name a single player off VMI, BYU or Providence, the three highest scoring teams last year.

        And if the team doesn’t have the talent to score and defend, they shouldn’t be winning ballgames anyway.

        I’m not saying 8-9 seconds to run a play from inbounds, I’m saying 8-9 seconds to run a play in your halfcourt set.

        So you figure at max 10 seconds to get the ball up court, and 10 seconds to run a play in the halfcourt. So that would still leave you 10 seconds to either re-set, keep possession, or do whatever.

        However you sort of re-iterated my point in my original post. Shortening the shot clock helps BOTH offense and defense. It’s going to help defensive oriented teams put more pressure on offenses like you said, but it’s going to speed up the pace of the game by forcing more shots and more possessions for the teams that dont play a slow it down styles.

  2. Josh Q said

    I got lawyered.

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