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 KenPom.com.
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.)
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.
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.