CLEMSON — While college football is quickening its pace, college basketball is slowing down.
College football teams are foregoing huddles to snap the ball as quickly as possible in up-tempo schemes. In basketball, more and more point guards can be seen halting their progress, melting the shot clock, seeking guidance from the bench.
In the 2002-03 season, 135 Division I teams averaged at least 70 possessions per game. Only 58 teams are averaging at least 70 possessions per game this season.
Clemson ranks 326th in the country (out of 347 Division I teams) and 11th in the ACC with 62.2 possessions per game this season. North Carolina, which plays at Clemson today (7 p.m., ESPN), is one of the few college teams still operating at a fast tempo. UNC leads the ACC with 73.3 possessions per game this season, ranking sixth in the nation.
The game is also slowing down because coaches have become more hands-on, more controlling. Clemson coach Brad Brownell has had assistant coaches scribble play calls on whiteboards to communicate with players on the court.
“Maybe coaches are becoming a little bit more of control freaks to have a say in what’s going on,” Brownell said. “With players’ skill levels not being quite as good, every possession seems to be really important, so you try to maximize it by slowing things down and getting what you want.”
Still, there are a few coaches who are increasing tempo.
Division II program West Liberty University, which averages more than 80 possessions per game, has success with a philosophy built upon full-court pressure, transition scoring and an undersized lineup that features multiple shooters and ballhandlers.
VMI coach Duggar Baucom, who runs an up-tempo offense, doesn’t think players have enough freedom.
“I call them joystick coaches,” Baucom told Grantland.com. “They try to orchestrate every movement instead of letting ’em play. There’s teams in our league that run 20 seconds of false motion to get the shot clock down, and then run a set. It becomes kind of like a wrestling match.”
Brownell said if he had a more experienced team, he would have more trust in allowing players to make full-speed decisions.
Still, Brownell’s history suggests his teams only play slightly faster when comprised of veterans.
Brownell’s first year at Clemson (2009-10) the Tigers operated slightly faster, 65.5 possessions per game, ranking 255th in the country in tempo.
Wright State posted 63.1 possessions per game, 306th in the country, in 2006-07 en route to the NCAAs under Brownell.
Brownell’s UNC-Wilmington NCAA team in 2005-06 had 66 possessions per game, 242nd in the country.
“With our team and our lack of scoring we feel our team plays a little better at a slower tempo,” Brownell said, “it gives ourselves a chance against teams that are more talented.”