College basketball's slowest-paced conference last season appears to be spearheading the fight to speed up the sport.
ACC commissioner John Swofford told reporters Thursday that the league intends to experiment with a 30-second shot clock during exhibition games next season. The 35-second shot clock traditionally used in men's college basketball is longer than the time allotted to teams in the NBA, FIBA and women's college basketball.
The push to lower the shot clock and increase the number of possessions in a game coincides with concern over the decrease in scoring in college basketball. Scoring in Division I plunging to 67.5 points per game for the 2012-13 seasons, the lowest in 31 years or the entirety of the 3-point era.
The first rules change designed to address that issue was the one implemented before last season designed to wean players off hand-checking or arm-barring and to force them to play defense with their feet. Scoring increased to 71.0 points per game last season, though the impact of the changes appeared to decrease as the season went along and referees gradually fell back into their former patterns.
Prominent coaches like Tom Izzo and Rick Pitino have advocated for the next step to be lowering the shot clock, but any increase in scoring caused by such a move could come at a steep price.
One of the best aspects of college basketball is the contrast in styles among opponents. Whereas most NBA teams rely on man-to-man defense and offense generated via isolation plays or pick and rolls, college teams play numerous different styles, from Virginia's pack-line man-to-man and patient motion offense, to VCU's fast-paced offense and frenetic full-court pressure defense, to everything in between.
A shorter shot clock is a move toward homogeneity. Not every team would dramatically alter its style of course, but the level of contrast would begin to erode.
Another concern is whether an increase in possessions per game would lower the percentage of major upsets in college basketball. The popularity of the NCAA tournament is built on the possibility of a high seed falling in the early rounds, but more possessions per game increase the likelihood of the expected outcome because the lesser talented team will have to outperform its opponent more trips down the floor.
Lastly, there's the question of whether the sport would be any more aesthetically pleasing to fans with a shorter shot clock. While every NBA team has lead guards adept at creating late in the shot clock, that's far from the case at the college level.
In other words, more possessions may mean more points but it will also mean more ugly misses at the shot clock buzzer too.
Ultimately, however, there's no harm in the ACC dabbling with a 30-second shot clock during exhibition play to give coaches, fans and administrators a firsthand look at the pros and cons. The change is certainly worth pondering but the ramifications require consideration too.
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