It’s Time For a Shot Clock in Class A
In the opening game of the Class A state basketball tournament St. Thomas More and Chester Area were tied 4-4…at the end of the first quarter.
Only six minutes into the game Chester Area went into a stall. The game plan was to slow it down, way down. And they did, passing the ball around the perimeter for two minutes before they finally took a shot at the buzzer.
Five passes may be an exhibition of discipline and team play, but 20 passes for no reason other than to prevent the other team from scoring is excruciating. I couldn’t help but ask myself (and anyone else who would listen) how long basketball fans have to endure a game of keep-away rather than real up-tempo basketball.
There are still those who don’t want to see a shot clock at the Class A level. They want to see great ball handling, and passing to the open man. I like to see that too. But eventually, teams should have to shoot to win.
Rules should promote the highest quality of play, and without a shot clock we are not seeing the best quality of basketball.
If you can’t put the ball in the basket more than the other team within a time limit, you don’t deserve to win. The essence of the game of basketball is putting the rock in the hole. Stopping your opponent takes real talent. To all those who argue that a shot clock takes away the defensive purity of the game, I would ask which takes more strategy: chasing someone around until you’re forced to foul, or actually stopping them when they’re trying to score? The real problem with slow down basketball is that it is not a display of great defense. The teams who slow it down are on offense.
It’s not quality basketball, and it reflects a style of play whose time has passed.
This controversy goes way back.
During one college game in 1982, before the shot clock was introduced, Notre Dame passed the ball 213 consecutive times before shooting in one possession. That same year, Sports Illustrated columnist Arnold Schechter wrote, “Propose a shot clock to most college basketball fans and they act as if you’ve suggested putting long skirts on the cheerleaders.”
I know the feeling Mr. Schechter.
I wonder what college basketball fans would say 30 years later in the middle of March Madness if they were stuck watching a tedious game riddled with perimeter passing and forced free throw shooting.
The once ridiculous notion of a shot clock in college basketball turned out okay. In the 1970’s it was impossible to know how a shot clock would affect the game. Now we know. It has made the game better. It has sharpened defensive play, made passing more exact, improved 3-point outside shooting, and made the game more exciting for fans. In fact, it is nearly impossible to imagine the modern game without it.
When the NBA went to a shot clock in 1954, yes over a half-century ago, attempted shots went up by 20 percent, scoring increased from 79.5 ppg to 93.1. Before the adoption of the NBA shot clock you could surely see a high-scoring game. But it was just as likely that you would see a game that had the pace of molasses. In 1950, during the lowest scoring game in NBA history, the Fort Wayne Pistons defeated the Minneapolis Lakers 19-18. Each team had only four baskets, and Fort Wayne outscored Minneapolis by the underwhelming margin of 3-1 in the fourth quarter.
The NBA’s first president, Maurice Podoloff said, “The adoption of the clock was the most important event in the NBA.”
Basketball has changed since the days of well-known clock killer, Bob Cousy. It’s not often anymore that you see a guy with a Elvis style Pompadour launching a line-drive chest shot followed by the “jimmy legs.”
Times have changed. Hoosiers was a great movie, but let’s put it in the past. It’s time to get over the romantic notion of “five passes” (or 213) to shoot. Sometimes a guy is wide open right by the basket, it’s called an alley-oop, and it’s fun to watch.
What isn’t enjoyable to watch is three guys running around in a circle passing. If I want to see a game of keep-away, I can watch my elementary school cousins do it in the front-yard. What is even worse is witnessing a team stall until the other is forced to foul. And then repeating that process in the hopes that the opponent will miss its free throws.
Stalling is counter-intuitive to the nature of sport. The best games are most often remembered for building to a climax, with explosive drama at the end. Athletic competition is built around drama, like the best films. Imagine going to a great movie and then 3/4 of the way through the actors just start milling around.
This is where not having a shot clock hurts the game the most. It decreases the chances of the come-from-behind win. Most often, stalling comes into play when a team has a two-possession lead “late” in the game. How much drama might we have missed on the first day of the NCAA tournament had there not been a shot clock in college basketball? Six games finished within one possession. In four of those contests, one team had a more than two-possession lead with under six minutes to play. A perfect time to stall.
A shot clock was proposed for Class A and B levels in South Dakota last year, it was rejected by the Athletic Director’s. They must still be used to the days when you could get off the couch in the fourth quarter, grab a sandwich, and yell in from the kitchen, “Hey Earl, what’s going on in the game?”
“Ah, they’re still just passing it around.”
On Thursday, the STM crowd chanted, “boring, boring” as Chester Area stalled. Exactly. Only I’ve seen the Cavs do it too. I’ve seen great Class A coaches like Luitjens and Hollenbeck implement it. And why not, it works. That’s the problem. It works. If I was coaching a team in a game without a shot clock I would do the same. In fact, if I had great ball handlers and had the lead I would do it early in the fourth quarter. With maybe like five minutes remaining I would shout out, “Alright boys, let’s set up for the final shot.”
In wrestling, if you stall, you get penalized. In hockey, if you try to pass around the puck with the lead, you get hammered against the boards. In baseball if you…okay bad example. You get the point.
Give South Dakota credit, we’re not the most progressive state in the union, but we are one of only eight states to use the shot clock (in Class AA) at the high school level.
It’s unfortunate Class A does not, because the quality of basketball is great. I love the parity during the regular season and at the state tournament. The passion both on and off the court from the smaller schools is unmatched. The level of play is high.
But until we have a shot clock, may the best team, well,…hold the ball not to lose.