Cats, Owls and the Story of the Shot Clock

I discovered a forgotten treasure in my attic this weekend, The Year of the ‘Cat – Villanova’s Incredible 1985 NCAA Basketball Championship Story, written by sports journalist Craig Miller. Flipping through the pages, I was struck by one passage covering Villanova’s 46-43 victory over Len Bias’ Maryland team in the 1985 Southeast Regional Semifinal. Mr. Miller wrote, "holding a 43-36 lead and with 5:40 remaining on the clock, Rollie Massimino screamed to his squad ‘ENOUGH!’ The team immediately switched to its delay game, something the trio of seniors had become successful with over the prior four seasons." Villanova went on to win 46-43.

Villanova’s 1985 NCAA Championship run is considered by most (Barney Rubble '87 excluded) the greatest Cinderella story in NCAA tournament history and became the inspiration for the term now commonly used to refer to the tournament -- "March Madness."  However, Villanova's tournament run that year also was partly responsible for a rule change that would have a profound effect on the future of the college game.  Rollie Massimino had elevated "the stall" to an art form in 1985 (the Cats attempted only 28 field goals in the Championship game, connecting on 79% of them).   NCAA officials feared that teams increasingly would use the delay game against superior opponents, slowing games to an unwatchable pace.  Villanova's win over Georgetown in the Championship game would be the last game played without the shot clock.  The NCAA Rules Committee adopted the 45-second shot clock in the 1985-86 season, later shortening it to 35 seconds in 1993.

The most compelling case for the shot clock involved Big Five rival, Temple, in a game played twelve years earlier against Tennessee.  Basketball Digest wrote an amusing account of the game, saying,  “with no shot clock to stop them, the underdog Owls decided before the game that no matter how ugly or boring it was, or how badly they desecrated the game,  they were going to stall. For Temple coach Don Casey, this was the Owls' best, and perhaps only, way to beat Tennessee.  Temple's best ball-handlers, Rick Trudeaux and John Kneib, stood like Easter Island statues in their Chuck Taylors, passing the ball back and forth for minutes at a time.”  In the end, their stall was for naught, as Tennessee prevailed by a score of 11-6, the lowest score in a  major college basketball game since 1938.

In writing  Scottie’s Stats Under Howard’s Rules, I initially was frustrated in my attempts to find statistics from the pre-shot clock era, something I needed to normalize Scottie’s career scoring totals to take into account the effect of the shot clock.  Mr. Miller’s book solved my problem, providing box scores for every game of the 1984-85 season.  I tabulated the field-goal attempts for all games played that season (having decided out of necessity that the 1984-85 team was a reasonable proxy for Howard Porter’s 1971 NCAA finals team) and compared the result with the full-season field goal statistics of Villanova's 2008-09 Final Four team.  The impact of the shot clock on the pace of play was palpable.  The 1984-85  team averaged 51.0 field goal attempts per game, converting 50.8% of them.  The 2008-09 team averaged 57.7 (6.7 or 13.1% more), converting 45.1% (49.8% from inside the arc).  

While far more data (more teams, more seasons) would be needed to make a statistically valid assessment of the impact of the shot clock on the college game, I'd bet my VUHoops salary that my analysis is at least directionally correct.  I leave any further research and analysis on this topic to our statistically-inclined cohort, GreyCat, over at Villanova By The Numbers.  Good luck finding the data, GreyCat!

What impact does this newly discovered data have on my calculations normalizing Scottie’s career scoring totals to reflect the NCAA rules in effect when Howard Porter played?  Click here to find out (Scottie fanatics should proceed at their own peril).

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