Fast Or Slow?

As we know by now, there are many different tempos at which division one basketball teams play. This can be for a variety of reasons. Some coaches don’t like to do a huge amount of coaching and just let their kids be athletes. Some like to take advantage of a talent discrepancy and maximize their possessions. Others do the opposite: they realize they aren’t as talented as their opponents so they minimize possessions. It’s tough to answer the question of whether it is better to play fast or slow, as generally teams will play at a pace which maximizes their talents. Also, teams that are really good will get “slowed down” by teams that aren’t as good in an attempt to throw them off, which affects their pace numbers (although KenPom does correct for opponent pace a little). So let’s just take a look at the last 16 final four teams, and the pace at which they played.

2009

North Carolina: 73.8 possessions (8th)

Michigan State: 67.3 (126th)

Connecticut: 68.4 (87th)

Villanova: 69.2 (63rd)

North Carolina was one of the fastest teams in the country last year, but what made them champions is that they could win when they were slowed down. Oklahoma got them to play a 65 possesion game, and they lost by 12. North Carolina did lose their slowest game of the year, but generally they were nearly as effective when they were slowed down. It surprised me that Villanova was as “slow” as they were, given that they trotted out really small lineups a lot of the time.

2008

KANSAS: 67.8 (136)

Memphis: 69.1 (87)

UCLA: 65.5 (217)

UNC: 74 (8)

Speaking of surprisingly slow teams, I’m surprised Kansas was so slow. Although Bill Self does like to dump it inside, so it probably shouldn’t shock me too much. Memphis being slower than I expected was a bit of a shock as well.

2007

Florida: 66.8 (167)

Ohio State: 65.4 (218)

UCLA: 64.3 (266)

Georgetown: 59.9 (328)

Obviously Georgetown was slow because their offense was built on the big man Roy Hibbert. What was UCLA’s excuse?

2006

Florida: 67.9 (114)

UCLA: 62.8 (300)

George Mason: 63.7 (286)

LSU: 68.7 (95)

Now, let’s calculate the average for these 16 teams, as well as their average place.

Average Pace: 67.1625

Average Rank: 156.625

The average pace for all teams over the past 4 years was 66.85, so these Final Four teams were a bit slower than the average. What does all this mean? Well it’s too small of a sample to make a definitive judgment, but it seems that playing at either extreme is a bad idea on aggregate. North Carolina, playing in the ACC, are going to have their numbers inflated a bit for playing in by far the fastest league in the country, but for the most part playing at around an average pace seems the way to go. And you should remember that pace isn’t entirely the product of the team: some opponents will deliberately speed up or slow down, and tempo in the 2nd half of games is almost entirely situation dependent.

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