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NCAA Basketball Rule Changes: Faster Pace, Better Finishes

A number of changes approved by the NCAA this week will potentially impact player safety and scoring for the better, but can also produce a more exciting final minute.

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday the NCAA approved significant changes to improve pace of play in men's college basketball, along with the annual list of emphases for officials in the coming season.  The most noticeable is the reduction of the shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds, putting the college game a few seconds and a few steps closer to the NBA.

There's an entertainment component here, built on an assumption of preference:  more scoring = more people watching.  The NCAA itself cited decreasing scoring averages in the second paragraph of their release, noting last year's average of 67.6 points per game was nearing historic lows.

You can see this trend clearly in SEC play over the last five seasons.  From 2006-07 thru 2009-10 SEC teams averaged between 71.8 and 73.5 points per game in conference play.  From a Tennessee perspective, the 2008 Vols are the highest scoring team in SEC play of the millennium, the only one to crack 80+ points per game at 80.2.  But from 2010-11 thru last season, SEC teams have averaged between 66.1 and 69.5 points per game, bottoming out last season at 66.05.

Some of this is coaching changes and style of play at the top.  The league has been dominated by defense-first teams from Kentucky and Florida in the last five years; Tennessee of course traded Pearl's tempo, which decreased as the years went on anyway, for defensive specialists in Cuonzo Martin and Donnie Tyndall.

But even last year's Arkansas team, much celebrated for playing fast, scored only 74.7 points per game to lead the SEC.  This output would have ranked only fourth in 2007 and fifth in 2009.  From 2007-10 only one team each season failed to average more than 65 points per game.  Last year six teams were under the speed limit.

Decreasing the shot clock will lead to more possessions and more opportunities to score.  Donnie Tyndall was not a fan of the idea, believing it would lead to more bad shots and a greater overall gap between good teams and bad.  Rick Barnes is in favor of the change, adding his voice to a group of high-profile coaches who don't seem too worried about the difference.  That story cites the numbers from the 2015 NIT, where these rules were beta tested and returned favorable results, with offensive efficiency increasing 0.6 points per 100 possessions while giving each team right at one extra possession per game.

Those possessions are most valuable at the end of games, which is where this and other changes by the NCAA will really be felt by fans.  One of the great casualties of changing the play clock in college football from 25 to 40 seconds is less opportunity for the trailing team in the final minutes.  The change is more fair overall (starting the play clock at 40 immediately after the previous play instead of waiting for the official to mark it ready and going from 25), but games are now effectively over sooner if the trailing team is out of timeouts.

A five second difference in the shot clock won't make a huge impact, but it does give a few extra seconds where teams don't have to foul at the end of the game.  And in a big win for all involved, the new rule changes also include the loss of one timeout in the second half.  Previously four timeouts could be carried over to the second half, but now only three are available to be used in the final 20 minutes.  This creates one less opportunity for play to be stopped in the final minutes, which should lead to a better flow at the end of games (since many of the plays drawn up in these final timeout huddles turn out to be 30 foot prayers anyway).

Additionally, timeouts called within 30 seconds of a scheduled media timeout now become the media timeout, a common sense move years behind schedule.  You're also going to see the circle underneath the basket expanded from three feet to four feet, which will hopefully lead to fewer collisions at the rim and fewer injuries.

And a personal favorite for all who love truth:

Faking fouls

During the use of a video review to see if a possible flagrant foul occurred, the panel approved a rule that would allow officials to penalize players who fake fouls. The NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Committee felt that players trying to draw fouls by deception is a growing issue.

So often these rule changes seem to make the game less entertaining or generally less fun.  But this year the committee even did away with the "no dunking in warmups" rule.  For the first time in recent memory, it seems like at least the majority if not all of these changes are going to make the college game better.  A number of changes are also scheduled for the women's game, including a change from two 20-minute halves to four 10-minute quarters.  I'm impressed with the powers that be for not being afraid to make significant, meaningful changes to improve the product.  More efficiency, more scoring, and even a few more seconds of opportunity at the end of games is a win all around for college basketball.