Is it time for a 24-second shot clock in men’s college basketball?
8:00 a.m. ET
John GasawayESPN Insider
CloseESPN Insider college basketball contributor Began covering college hoops in 2004 Has written for Basketball Prospectus and the Wall Street Journal
Ask Jamie Dixon about the idea of a 24-second shot clock in Division I men’s basketball, and he doesn’t mince words.
“I think it’s going to happen,” the TCU head coach told ESPN. “I’ve been saying that for years.”
Dixon has first-hand experience with the shorter clock. He coached Team USA to a gold medal at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2021 in Latvia.
With a roster consisting of Mike Miles Jr., Ryan Kalkbrenner, Chet Holmgren and Jaden Ivey, the Americans edged Victor Wembanyama and France 83-81 in the final. (“I tried to recruit Victor,” Dixon joked.)
Have college stars accustomed to a 30-second clock struggled to transition to the international and NBA standard of 24? Dixon chuckled.
“You don’t have guys looking to run the clock,” he said. “It’s the right audience [for 24 seconds], they think they just made the league. You helped them achieve their dream.”
FIBA shortened its shot clock from 30 seconds to 24 in 2000. Since then, Team USA has posted a 67-5 U19 record and won four of the last five gold medals.
Could it be time for DI to sync up with the rest of the world and go 24?
The past, the NBA and the world
Whenever the idea of bringing the 24-second clock to college basketball has come up, it has been rightly pointed out that the next level includes the best players in the world. Of course the 24-second clock works well in the NBA, that thought works. Look how talented these players are.
Over the past two decades, however, the terrain has changed under this particular response. In 2023, it’s no longer just LeBron James or Giannis Antetokounmpo who thrive on the shorter clock. The same goes for teenagers from Serbia, Canada, Senegal, Argentina, Australia and all over the world except the United States.
Basketball is, and can be, very good when played with a 30-second clock. The question is whether 30 seconds is optimal.
“We train with 24 seconds [at TCU] in summer and fall,” Dixon said. “You just adjust in little ways. Rather than riding it up, you ride it up faster, removing the weave thingy or whatever. »
Dixon loves the urgency created by the shorter clock. “You have to get into your sets faster,” he said. “Be constantly on the attack. We don’t want to shoot in the last six seconds of the clock.”
Styles, defenses and upheavals
One of the most common criticisms of the 24-second clock is that it allegedly leads to lackluster uniformity in playstyles. In that vein of thought, everything in a 24-second world is fast hits and isolations because there is no time to reverse the ball and probe the defence.
Another concern is that college teams will play more zone and employ more pressing defenses. Finally, conventional wisdom holds that stronger teams win more often as more possessions are added to a contest. The larger the basketball sample size, the lower the risk of a shocking upset.
These concerns are perhaps both legitimate and familiar. Many, if not all, were brought up in 2015 when reducing the shot clock from 35 seconds to 30 seconds was under discussion.
Today, there seems to be a tolerable diversity of playstyles and a reasonable balance between the different defenses. Additionally, the first No. 15 seed to reach the Elite Eight (Saint Peter’s) did so with a time of 30 seconds.
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What about teams that prefer a slower pace?
KenPom tracks the average length of possession (APL) in offense and defense for each team. Over the past few seasons, DI’s longest APLs on offense have ranged from 21.0 to 21.5 seconds. Executing your attack at a speed of just 2.5-3 seconds under a potential new time limit certainly feels like a tight squeeze.
However, we may be doing number 21 a disservice. APL measures full offensive possession. The metric is not limited by a cap of 30 seconds. An offensive rebound or a non-shot foul by the defense can extend an individual possession time beyond 30 seconds.
Another measure of the speed at which a team chooses to play is the time elapsed on the first attempt to shoot a possession. When Villanova won a 50-44 slugfest over Houston in the 2022 Elite Eight, for example, the Wildcats put 18.3 seconds in the shot clock, on average, before throwing their first attempt.
Villanova was typically deliberate in this 58-possession regional final, and around 18 seconds can provide a useful vignette for how slow you can currently go. In their next game, an 81-65-on-58 Final Four loss to Kansas, the Wildcats averaged a first shot attempt after 17.6 seconds.
A team that spends an average of 18 seconds before attempting the first shot of a possession would face an adjustment with a clock of 24 seconds. Finding out exactly what this fit would entail might be worth experimenting with.
What We Think We Already Know About 24 seconds
Reducing the shot clock from 30 to 24 seconds is not necessarily the same as shortening it from 35 to 30. One way to address the uncertainty could be for the NCAA to give a shorter shot clock try during a next National Invitational Tournament.
Assuming the NCAA takes such an experimental step, what might we learn? If the college game were to adopt the shorter clock, we can predict with a reasonable degree of confidence that the following would occur:
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The score will increase. The over/unders will have to draw a corresponding rise. When the clock was adjusted in 2015, the team score increased by around five points per game. More recently, the rating appears to have settled around three points above the 2014-15 average.
The tempo will quicken. Last month, Washington State and Stanford played out a 53 possession game. Under a 24-second clock, it would be harder to play just 53 possessions in 40 minutes.
There will be fewer games where both teams score 50 points or less. From 2010-11 to 2014-15, there were 258 such games in the sports-reference.com database. In the seven full seasons since played with the 30-second clock, there have only been 99 such games, a decrease of 73% per season. In that sense, at least, shot clocks can be said to work.
Our ESPN colleague Fran Fraschilla claimed a 24-second clock for the college game as far back as 2010. If a shorter clock pushed the more extreme, lower-rated contests in a slightly faster direction, it might be worth testing. Fran’s idea at the NIT very soon.
Dixon is ready to try the idea. “That would be nice,” he said. “It’s good for the game.”