Building a Better Basketball Offense, Part 1: Transition

“I will never, ever play the game the other way. We’re not going to play like everyone else, just because every other coach is doing it. I’d throw up.” – Tim Cluess, Iona head coach

Imagine a world where, at your profession, you control the pace of your work. Sure, maybe you do so right now, but it isn’t true for most of us. The vast majority of what you do is at a plodding pace, one where you’re forced to get creative to hit a goal in an efficient manner. Occasionally, though, an opportunity comes about: a way to get things done that offers a fast pace, higher efficiency, and, generally, a more fun outcome. If everyone else is working at a slower, more deliberate pace 85% of the time and only doing the fun, quick stuff for the other 15%, you’d like to increase the amount of time you spend on the fun and easy stuff, right? Congrats: on part one of a seven-part series, you’ve solved college basketball.

It would be nice if it was that easy. Like most sports, points come at a premium in college basketball. Unsurprisingly, it’s much easier to score in transition than in half-court. The average transition offense in D-1 puts up 1.11 points per shot; average half-court, 0.994 PPS. That’s a difference of eight points in an average D-1 game. Why don’t more teams play fast, then? Because:

    • It’s just about impossible to play an entire game in transition.
    • Unless you have a really, really deep team, you’re going to have to slow the game down somewhat to keep your players from falling over.

However, playing faster and scoring more points is starting to equal better efficiency. The ten fastest teams in D-1 in 2018-19 averaged 1.066 PPP; the ten slowest, 1.03. This has greatly shifted from the 35-second shot clock era. In 2014-15, the last year of the 35-second shot clock, only four of the ten fastest offenses in America ranked in the top 100 in efficiency; five of the ten slowest did, with none ranking below #245.

While it’s impossible to build the perfect offense, even for transition, we can at least look at what ties the best offenses together to form an easier path forward. This series isn’t about building the perfect basketball offense. It’s about making your offense better. This edition includes interviews with Whitman College head coach Eric Bridgeland and West Virginia Tech head coach Bob Williams. If you’d like to skip ahead to a certain team’s section, you may do so here:

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