How does KU rank compared to other blue bloods in terms of playing fast offensively?

Until a few weeks ago, the best way for us to determine how fast a college basketball team played offensively was to look at the adjusted pace on

There was a flaw in that, though. The goal of many teams is to play quick offensively (score in transition) and force other teams into bad shots on defense (resulting in longer possessions). With those teams, it would have been difficult to tell if a faster pace was caused by a run-and-gun offense or a defense that allowed quick shots.

It's become much easier recently. Last month, Ken Pomeroy posted a new statistic on his site: average possession length (APL) for both offense and defense. This new number is simple: Pomeroy says it "is not adjusted for competition and it measures the length of an entire possession, so offensive rebounds count."

Though Pomeroy says shooting the ball faster on offense has a weak correlation to scoring more points per possession (shooting faster generally means more transition shots, which are more successful because they're against an unset defense), what's more interesting is that now we can better determine a team's offensive style.

And to take it a step further, if a recruit wants to go to a school that "plays fast," we now have a better way to show exactly which schools do just that.

So let's say Recruit X is a top-10 prospect in the class of 2014, and he wants to go to a school that plays fast offensively. Which are his best choices?

Let's take a look.

(Note: To determine the "blue bloods," I took the six schools from this list and added in Syracuse and Michigan State, who have had plenty of recent success.)

Which blue bloods play fastest offensively?

Which blue bloods play fastest offensively? by Jesse Newell

Not surprisingly, North Carolina plays the fastest of the top teams, ranking or tying for first in offensive APL in three of the last four seasons.

Though Syracuse has ranked in the top half of the NCAA in adjusted tempo just once in the last four years, it turns out that most of the reason for that was its tough-to-score-on matchup zone defense. In actuality, the Orange are one of the fastest-playing teams offensively in this list, ranking first (tie), third and second in the first three years of the study before dropping to a tie for fourth last year.

KU coach Bill Self also should have a good recruiting pitch if a recruit is looking to play fast. His team has played consistently fast offensively despite having teams that were better built to run (2010-11 with the Morris twins) and ones that might not have been (2009-10 with Cole Aldrich).

Some other interesting notes:

Kentucky doesn't play as fast as I'd expect given the athletes that play there. The Wildcats usually are a good offensive rebounding team, which might be causing their offensive APLs to tick up a bit, but the possession times are still higher than expected. It still hasn't appeared to hurt UK's efficiency, as it has ranked in the top 15 in KenPom's adjusted offensive efficiency in three of the last four seasons.

• Indiana and UCLA both appear to have made concerted efforts to play faster offensively in the last two seasons. With IU, this also might be the "Cody Zeller" effect, as his ability to run the floor in transition made it beneficial to play a more up-tempo style. UCLA appears to have had some success speeding it up, as its adjusted offensive efficiency went from 79th nationally in 2011 to 72nd in 2012 and 38th in 2013.

Duke and Michigan State were the two slowest-shooting teams a year ago, and Duke is the real surprise to me. MSU is known for a bit of a plodding style and also for being strong on the offensive glass (41st nationally).

Duke, though, was a terrible offensive rebounding team last year (270th nationally) and still was taking 17.7 seconds to shoot it each possession. As you'd expect, coach Mike Krzyzewski still knew what he was doing, as even with the slow pace, the Blue Devils had the fourth-most efficient offense in the nation. That's tough to do with limited scoring in transition.

Just for fun, I went ahead and graphed out the Big 12 teams and how they ranked the last four years. I didn't include West Virginia or TCU, who just joined the conference last season.

Big 12 offensive APL

Big 12 offensive APL by Jesse Newell

As you'd expect, KU plays one of the fastest tempos, though Iowa State is right with the Jayhawks and even passed them last season.

A few other notes:

Oklahoma — like Syracuse — plays much faster offensively than what we'd expect because of stingy defense. The Sooners had the Big 12's longest average defensive possession length a season ago (19.1 seconds), and that might have masked the fact that OU's 16.7-second average offensive possession length tied for the second-fastest in the conference with KU.

It's also interesting to note the distinct change in offensive style since OU coach Lon Kruger took over for Jeff Capel after the 2011 season. The Sooners have drastically decreased their average offensive possession time, and their offense has improved every year, going from 136th in adjusted efficiency in 2011 to 127th in 2012 to 36th in 2013.

Also, do we think there's anything to NBA-style coaches having a preference to play faster offensively? Is it a coincidence that the coaches with the most NBA background in the Big 12 (Kruger, ISU's Fred Hoiberg) have ranked in the top three with KU in offensive APL the last two seasons? Might be something to watch in future years.

Texas has gone from playing extremely fast to extremely slow. The Longhorns still top-35 offenses in 2011 and 2012 before bottoming out last year (161st). Getting a few more easy buckets certainly couldn't hurt a UT team that had severe shooting and turnover issues a year ago.

• Kansas State appears to be one of the teams that is able to succeed offensively with longer possessions. You'd have to think the Wildcats' recent success on the offensive glass is a big reason their possession times have been among the longest in the league.

Let's get back to Recruit X. If he's wanting to play fast offensively, North Carolina should immediately be on his list, as should Syracuse and even KU. Indiana and UCLA have shown recent tendencies to play faster, while Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State have had a tendency to slow down their offensive tempos.

If he's only looking to the Big 12, then KU and Iowa State would be the top choices, with Kruger quickly catching up in his two years at OU.



ric_jayhawk 8 months, 1 week ago

[warning author adoration post]


I look forward to all of your posts. They are informative, well researched and insightful.

You do excellent work.

For an information starved Jayhawk living in Virginia, this is pure gold.

Keep it up.

[End fanboy commentary]


justanotherfan 8 months, 1 week ago

Not surprised that coaches with NBA experience would have a quicker offense. The nature of working with the 24 second shot clock is going to have them design their offense to get something within the first 8-12 seconds on just about every possession, so that the rest comes with 10-12 seconds still on the shot clock.

I find the styles of different teams interesting. Kentucky playing a little bit slower than some of the other blue bloods didn't shock me, because they have gotten a fair amount of offense on post ups from guys like Cousins, Jones, Davis, etc. That offsets their transition. I think the fact that many teams don't crash the offensive glass against UK affects their ability to get into transition off misses.

I am not surprised that KU gets out to a good pace offensively. KU runs very well off misses, and has always created a decent number of turnovers. I'd say in that respect their style is very similar to Louisville (although it is achieved in different ways), so it makes sense that KU and Louisville run almost parallel to each other.

I'd be interested to see a follow up with defense for those teams to see who allows quick shots. My guess would be that UNC and IU give up quicker shots while KU, UK and Mich St make teams use more of their shot clock.


jaybate 8 months, 2 weeks ago

What so I hypothesize from cursory review of the charts? Two things: one about individual teams from year to year, and one about individual teams in relation to each other.

  1. Considering each team separately year to year, time of offensive possession appears to correlate inversely with size of rotation. As rotation size increases, seconds of offensive play decreases. As rotation size decreases, seconds of offensive play increases. I can't vouch for this for all teams, but with the teams I am familiar, its appears to hold, and, oh, by the way, it is consistent with what I know to be a coach'sl tendency to play faster with more talent and slower with less. When you have a larger rotation, you try to increase pace of play to tire an opponent with a smaller rotation. In 2011, Self had more depth than in 2010, so time of offensive possession went way down in 2011. In 2012, Self had only 7 players most of the season. Most of the season he sandbagged for extended periods and tried to win the game late with a burst of defensive pressure, leaps into transition and quick strikes in half court. Last season, 2013, Self has a slightly larger rotation and KU played slightly faster.

Translation: teams tend to transition more and push it up the floor more, when they play larger rotations and don't have to worry about fatigue and fouling so much.

  1. Comparing teams relative to one another, each of the coaches at each of the blue blood programs tend play at a different pace and tend to oscillate around that different pace based on rotation size in any given year.

William Blake 8 months, 2 weeks ago

I'm still not sure what I take out of this stat. I'm not sure what it proves, including from a recruiting outlook. It stills seems a bit like numbers massaging. This stat still needs to be adjusted further... removing offensive rebounds, and just showing offensive possession times starting from the beginning of the possession and ending at the first shot on goal. That is a number I want to see...

I'd also like to see other stats... Like how about the # of times (per game) teams finish an offensive possession within the first 10 seconds of the shot clock? Remove all TOs so as to only reflect quick shots.

Stats have come a long ways... but they still have a ways to go. I'm not trying to be negative about Pomeroy's efforts. It is the start of what will, one day, offer incredibly precise info on teams and players.


Dirk Medema 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Jesse - Do you have the raw data; # of possessions in particular. It would be really easy to adjust out the influence of the OR by simply adding each as an additional possession. Many times the second shot won't take as long as the first, but it would still seem better than penalizing a team for being good on the glass. Not that you decided to do the latter, but would be a way you could offer even more advanced stats than KenPom, which is saying plenty. Thanks for geeking.


kusayzone 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Any offense could be quick if the guy who rebounds the ball, is the one who gets to dribble it down court and shoot it....


iamakufan 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Jesse, I'm a bit color-challenged and I'd bet some other readers are, too, especially males. It would be helpful to me if you could in the future put the team names on or right up next to the appropriate line on the graph. Or use arrows. Anything besides just color to tell which line is for which team. Sorry. And thanks.


CardsFanTX 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Seriously? How can you have Syracuse, IU, and Mich. St. in this comparison and not include Louisville? That's just silly. Louisville has 2 more Final Fours than IU or Mich. St. and twice as many as Syracuse. They have more National Championships than Syracuse and Mich. St. Next time, compare ACTUAL "blue bloods" - not arbitrarily chosen ones. Thanks.


Ralster Jayhawk 8 months, 2 weeks ago

If there are any KU people left who still remember Roy's years and yearn to play "fast"-->please read Jesse's article, and read it again & consider in your brain what has happened to Roy's teams. Realize the trackmeet game gets you beat if your shot is off, or if the opponent plays stingy D, thus bothering your shot. Enter into evidence a royalty-level clash of philosophies the last 3 meetings of Roy vs. Bill, and it has been in the high-stakes Tournament play of March Madness...Result = Self ending UNC's tournament run 3 times out of the past 6 yrs. Think about that. And Self did it the last 2 times without a single MickeyD starter, while UNC had 5 of 'em. Think how bad UNC fans must think of KU & Self. Aw, shucks... You live, you learn. But Roy still hasnt learned. How "soft, so soft" were his bigs against KU: settling for the MJ-wannabe midrange jumpshot, the worst shot in basketball. Fraidy-fraid to take it in against Withey. Contrast that with Withey's play, who was no longer afraid, or passive. There's your nutshell synopsis on the clash of philosophies/systems. Loved Roy's 15yrs for us, but we have moved on to a more complete playstyle in all phases of the game, as well as the mentality needed to gut-it-out, when needed. R.C.J.H. (P.S.: Never forget the 08Champs out-transitioned vaunted number1seed UNC into oblivion, whipping them twice in the same game. Can we get 2 "W's" out of that?...So we can transition-ball with the best, too. We got it all, thank you Bill Self.)


Ralster Jayhawk 8 months, 2 weeks ago

First, put a BIG asterisk by KState's last season, as those were Frank's recruits and also a seasoned, experienced first 7 guys. That team no longer exists, and with 2 returnable guys transferring, that program may have just imploded--especially with Weberdowndraft at the helm... Make no mistake, however, that the REAL challengers are: OklaState (at least this coming year), OU (Kruger has a young team of athletes that play D, and now they are experienced, although gotta replace grad Osby), and IowaState (dangerous playstyle, but Perry Ellis embarrased them in the BigXII Tourney, causing the impeccably-demeanored Hoiberg to fling his chair. Fred, you just got Self'd). Let's not talk about Faylor, as too much laughter makes my sides hurt...


Adam Tyler 8 months, 2 weeks ago


Thank you for thinking outside of the box. Your work is truly sensational.


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