CLEMSON — Men’s college basketball teams in the state of South Carolina don’t naturally hurry down the hardwood.
In the 2014-15 season, South Carolina averaged 64.8 possessions per game, while Clemson logged 62.6 possessions, College of Charleston 61.8 and The Citadel 60.1. All four figures lagged in the bottom half of Division I programs.
Their female counterparts get more scoring opportunities — many more. To little surprise, South Carolina’s Final Four squad made the most of 68.3 possessions per game. Perhaps more curiously, Clemson and College of Charleston, two women’s teams averaging a 7-23 record, were not as efficient but even faster than the Gamecocks, nearing closer to 70 possessions a night.
There’s one fundamental difference between the lads and the ladies: for 22 years, college men played with a 35-second shot clock, while college women play with a 30-second shot clock.
The men joined the women Monday, when the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved several rule change recommendations put forth May 15 by the NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Committee.
Proposals pushed through Monday included shortening the shot clock, enlarging the restricted-area arc under the basket and reducing timeouts with an eye on increasing two things: pace and points.
It’s a long-awaited, refreshing move in many circles, none more endorsed than one of the most esteemed critics in the sport, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas.
“Men’s college basketball is the slowest game in the world,” Bilas told The Post and Courier last winter. “The international game is 24 seconds, college women play 30 and the men play 35. What possible explanation could we have for that?
“Eventually, the outcry will be such that even the most staunch defenders of the if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it crowd are going to have to say this is ridiculous.”
A shorter shot clock was tested in the 2015 NIT, obviously with positive results. Interestingly, of the three holdover coaches leading the men’s in-state teams listed above, the two with the slower tempos are on board with shaving five seconds off the shot clock.
“A 30-second shot clock, I’m all for that. I think it can be good for the game,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “I don’t mind that at all.”
College of Charleston coach Earl Grant, Brownell’s former assistant, added, “In general I’m in favor of 30-second shot clock. I think there are other ways we can increase scoring and make the game quicker and more fun to watch that don’t include having a 30-second shot clock, but this is a good first step.”
If the women’s game is any indication, the men can expect approximately five more possessions per team per game.
However, South Carolina’s Frank Martin thinks the shorter shot clock won’t have the intended impact on quality of action.
“It’s not the pace of play; it’s the players that don’t have the skills or the understanding of how to play,” Martin told Spurs and Feathers. “Have people at the high school level teach it the way they used to teach it, and maybe we’d have good college basketball. I’m having to teach stuff to our incoming freshmen I used to teach ninth- and 10th-graders.”
Martin’s biggest beef is lack of education in prep ball, and Brownell doesn’t disagree.
“You need to learn how to create a shot for yourself, or someone else. There’s a lot of kids that can’t do that,” Brownell said. “In the NBA, the guys can do it — that’s why they’re there. European players grow up that way, so they’re used to it. Our kids don’t. We’re making a mistake by not implementing it in high school if we want to improve our college game.”
Brownell, in his five years at Clemson (the first four with Grant on staff), has said he could see the Tigers picking up the pace naturally, with younger point guards more fit to fly than the methodical Rod Hall, who just graduated.
“It’s bit of a misnomer with our style that we have to play that slow. We really aren’t as slow as some people think,” Brownell said. “I like to push the pace, especially in certain games where I think we can.”
A quicker countdown should help that strategy along. Brownell’s protégé sees an advantage on the other side of the floor.
“We like to full-court press, so taking five seconds off the shot clock will help a team like us because (our opponent will) have less time to set up in their half-court offense,” Grant said. “It’s going to make them take more shots as the shot clock is winding down, and that’s when a team tends to rush shots and take bad shots.”
In many ways, Brownell and Grant were in lockstep with their big-picture views on a 30-second shot clock. They each suggested radical improvement won’t necessarily come immediately.
“I don’t know that it’s going to solve the ills of scoring that people want,” Brownell said. “With a shorter shot clock, you’re actually going to give the advantage to the defense because they only have to defend well for a shorter amount of time.”
The Cougars’ and Tigers’ coaches don’t subscribe to quieter musings the college game might be better off full-pro.
“I don’t think we need to have an NBA shot clock at 24 seconds,” Grant said. “I think that would create more possessions, and in the end I think that would favor teams from that have more talent because they’d have more offensive possessions.”
And Brownell: “I don’t like the 24-second shot clock. I think that’s too big an adjustment right now.”
Andrew Miller contributed to this report.