Shot Clock Is Late But Welcome At The Postseason Party

Posted: March 09, 1986

In 1978, after New Orleans snored through the Sun Belt tournament final with a 22-20 win over South Alabama, the conference had seen enough of Sominex basketball.

"Our people said, 'OK, enough of that,' " said Sun Belt commissioner Vic Bubas. "So we put in a shot clock. It caused great controversy even within our own conference. The rest of the country was laughing at us. But now I think the clock has proven itself."

After years of tinkering and experimenting, a 45-second shot clock was used in all NCAA games this season, and beginning Thursday, it will be used for the first time in an NCAA tournament. And among the nation's coaches, there seems to be the overwhelming feeling that a clock has done nothing but enhance the game of college basketball.

"The 45-second clock is seven or eight years overdue," Washington coach Andy Russo said. "I think the kids ought to determine the outcome of the game. And the clock allows them to do that."

The effect of a shot clock, though, has been more subtle than one might have predicted. Don't look for scoring to take a big leap in the tournament. In fact, scoring dropped during this regular season.

Through midseason last year, the national average was 138.7 points per game. Through Jan. 25 this year, that total was down .2 to 138.5. Not a significant drop, but not an increase either.

"The shot clock was not supposed to have much effect," Bubas said. "The only thing it was supposed to do was destroy the stall game. It wasn't supposed to do anything else."

The game that may have done more than anything else to sway public opinion toward the shot clock was a nationally televised North Carolina-Virginia matchup, in a conference title game in 1982. The Tar Heels, with James Worthy and Michael Jordan, eventually would win the national championship, and Virginia had Ralph Sampson in the middle, but Carolina coach Dean Smith took these marvelous athletes out of the game with a stall.

With 13 minutes left, Carolina was up, 40-39, when Smith called for his four-corners delay. Only 13 points were scored the rest of the way as Carolina won a 47-45 sleeper. The public and media backlash was considerable. By the next season, the Atlantic Coast Conference, and many others, had a 30-second clock.

"All the clock really does is eliminate the low-scoring, stall-ball games that make people angry and hurt TV ratings," said Jim Van Valkenburg, director of statistics for the NCAA.

The most obvious impact of the clock in the tournament will involve late- game strategy. Instead of putting the ball in the deep-freeze when their teams have the lead, coaches will be forced to keep their offenses at room temperature. Down the stretch, teams will have to play instead of play dead.

"Teams that like to put the ball away in the last 5 or 10 minutes will be forced to play the entire 40 minutes," said Arizona coach Lute Olson.

Said North Carolina State's Jim Valvano: "With no clock, you start thinking about the time at about the 10-minute mark. At 5 minutes, you might say, 'I've got to pull the ball out.'

"With the clock, you start thinking about possessions. Say there's 1:10 left and you've got a one-point lead and the ball. Do I want to shoot quick and get the ball back, or do I want to hold it and work for the best shot? That's the difference. Strategy."

Some wonder, too, whether a shot clock in the tournament will eliminate the major upsets. North Carolina State in 1983 and Villanova last year were masters at controlling the tempo. Are these patient, unhurried Cinderella teams an endangered species in the tournament with a shot clock? Some think so.

"With the shot clock, a talented team - one in the top 15 - will survive the six rounds, while a ball-control, discipline team with less talent won't," said ESPN analyst Dick Vitale.

Said Georgetown coach John Thompson: "This time of the year, coaches tend to become conservative. The clock should have a great effect on that."

Russo, the Washington coach, expressed concern that the clock would not afford sufficient protection for a team that takes a lead into the final minutes of a tournament game.

"I'd like to see the clock turned off the last 4 or 5 minutes," Russo said. "I think that would be more fair. In football, if a wide-open passing team builds a 14-point lead, it starts running the ball to protect the lead. If you've got a lead, it's because you've earned it. Things should be stacked in your favor. Basketball is the only game where you're not given a clear-cut advantage when you have the lead."

These concerns may be too alarmist, though. There is ample evidence that upsets are still possible in the tournament. Look at the regular season. Maryland won at North Carolina. Notre Dame won at Syracuse. Villanova beat Georgetown. Florida State beat Memphis State. Brown defeated the University of Miami. Penn stung Southern Cal. Cincinnati upset Louisville.

"Cinderella can still wear the glass slipper," Valvano said.

Forty-five seconds is a long time to hold the ball on one possession. It gives a patient, slow-down team ample opportunity to control the tempo.

"Think about it," said St. John's coach Lou Carnesecca. "If you wanted, you could almost take one shot a minute."

A study was conducted on the shooting in last year's Villanova-Georgetown championship game. And despite the Wildcats' reputation for letting the air out of the ball, "Villanova would have given up the ball only once, maybe twice, if a 45-second clock had been in effect," said Van Valkenburg, the NCAA statistician.

"The difference this year is that the clock will be on the minds of the players. You wonder what kind of effect that will have."

Michigan coach Bill Frieder, whose Wolverines lost to Villanova in last year's Southeast subregional, also did a study on the shooting in that game. ''Just like Memphis State and North Carolina and Maryland and Georgetown, we lost because we ran into a good Villanova team, not because of the clock," Frieder said.

"Not one time did Villanova take over 45 seconds in one possession."

Said Villanova coach Rollie Massimino: "Yeah, sure, I think there's still plenty of room for upsets. If we get in the tournament, anything can happen

because of the way we play defense."

Now that the shot clock is here, another movement has surfaced in college basketball - the three-point shot.

"The (NCAA) rules committee has sent out a questionnaire asking about improvements in the game," Miami coach Bill Foster said. "One of the questions is on the three-point shot. I think it'll take another two years."

With the shot clock in effect, many teams have resorted to packing their zone defenses in tightly and forcing opponents to flail away from the outside. A three-point shot would force defenses to extend and would reward the flame- throwing guards.

"Most teams don't have a legitimate big man," Foster said. "A three- point shot would up the value of the guards. And it would make the game more exciting for the players and the fans. And that's who it should be played for."

In 1983, the ACC experimented with a 19-foot three-point shot. N.C. State upset Virginia to win the conference tournament, and then beat Houston to win the national championship. Kansas' Larry Brown would like a three-point shot at the 21-foot range.

"Nineteen feet is too close," he said.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski wants no part of the three-point shot. "I think it cheapens the game," he said. "That shot we had in the ACC was ridiculous. It was inside the top of the key. It was a carnival."

Some coaches also would like to see the 45-second clock shortened to 30 or 24 seconds. Valvano and Smith are in favor of the 30-second clock and the 19- foot three-point shot used in the ACC in 1983.

"I call the 45-second clock the eternity clock," Valvano said. "It's on forever. I don't think it's had much impact. I'd like a 30-second clock. The lower the clock, the more teams play to win rather than not to lose."

Carnesecca, too, would like a 30-second clock. "Basketball is becoming, more and more, entertainment," he said.

Frieder of Michigan prefers an NBA-type 24-second clock. "If you had a 24- second clock and a three-point shot, you'd have a lot of great games," he said. "That's what the fans and the players want - offense. So let's give them offense."

Jim Boeheim, whose dragstrip offense has made Syracuse a frequent top 10 team, said even 24 seconds was too long for his team. "Fifteen seconds wouldn't hurt us," he said. "But for the good of college basketball, I think 40 or 45 seconds is better. Once you get below that, the most talented teams will almost always win out."

Brown, who has experience with the 24-second clock in the NBA, agreed.

"A 30-second clock or 24 seconds would take the upset away," he said. ''The quality teams would win because of the number of possessions. Teams that don't have the talent of North Carolina or Georgia Tech would have a hard time beating them, because North Carolina and Georgia Tech would have the ball too many times.

"Pete Newell (personnel director of the Golden State Warriors) suggested that a 30-second clock be turned on once you cross midcourt. That might work."

For now, though, college basketball will live with the 45-second clock and no three-point shot. And this year's tournament figures to be the most wide open in years.

"The game is very good the way it is now," Duke's Krzyzewski said. ''Let's just play for a while."

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