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December 6, 2012
Pace Changers
Hitting the Brakes

by Corey Schmidt

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Earlier this week I looked at the 10 teams that significantly increased their pace of play through the first month of the season. Today I'll look at teams that are playing at a much slower pace in the early going.

Like a majority of the accelerators, many of the teams that are decelerating have new coaches who are implementing different systems from last year. However, there are a few programs on this list with long-tenured coaches who are opting for a different look so far in 2012-13.

Idaho State
2012: 65.5 possessions per 40 minutes
2013: 56.3
Idaho State is a program that is used to dramatic tempo fluctuations after a coaching change. The Bengals averaged 72 possessions per 40 minutes in Doug Oliver's last season before Joe O'Brien brought that figure all the way down to 61 the next year, his first on the sidelines. Neither approach worked, which is precisely why neither coach lasted in Pocatello. Veteran coach Bill Evans took over this season, and his team is playing even slower than the slowest squads during the O'Brien era. Like his predecessors, Evans has struggled to win early on. His team has just one win, which was versus a non-Division I opponent, and it's possible they won't get another one until the New Year. Even with a propensity to use up the entire shot clock, the Bengals are settling on three-pointers, and they're not making them. A full 44 percent of their overall shot attempts have come from beyond the arc, and they've made just 27 percent of those jumpers. And if there were ever a use for tempo-free stats, it's for a team like Idaho State. While they're "only" averaging 13 turnovers per game, that equates to a large percentage (23) for a team that only averages 56 possessions in regulation.

Rhode Island
2012: 68.1 possessions per 40 minutes
2013: 59.9
Studying the history of tempo at Rhode Island under former coach Jim Baron is really interesting. Baron's squads were all over the place in terms of pace, from a high of 71 possessions in 2007-08 to a low of 63 in 2004-05. Is it possible that his replacement, Dan Hurley, may follow a similar path of ups-and-downs? In two seasons at Wagner, Hurley's teams were north of the Division I average in tempo. In his first year at URI, conversely, his squad is currently one of the slowest in the nation. The Rams have struggled to win games early on, but the tempo drop has at least enabled them to put last season's turnover woes behind them. The lack of giveaways hasn't had much of an impact, though, as they continue to struggle in all other offensive facets.

TCU
2012: 68.3 possessions per 40 minutes
2013: 60.6
A Trent Johnson-coached squad hasn't played at a quick pace since the names on the front of the jerseys said Nevada -- and that was three schools ago for Johnson. Since those halcyon days, Johnson has brought a deliberate playing style to Stanford, LSU, and now TCU. In the early going, the Horned Frogs are doing a fine job of dictating tempo. For proof, look no further than their game against now-speedy UAB, which Johnson's team "held" to under 70 possessions. This change has had the immediate effect of improving TCU's defense. After four straight years of giving up 52 percent-plus shooting inside the arc under Jim Christian, they're now allowing just 41 percent. That impressive number has been recorded against a weak slate, but it's improvement nonetheless, as well as a means for this often overmatched team to build an identity. A final observation: Trent Johnson has placed a ban on three-pointers, as history suggested he would. In the case of the Horned Frogs, that's a welcome embargo. TCU has made just 25 percent of their infrequent attempts.

Charleston Southern
2012: 71.1 possessions per 40 minutes
2013: 63.8
Like the aforementioned Jim Baron, Charleston Southern coach Barclay Radebaugh does not stick to any one type of playing style over time. What's particularly odd about this year's sudden downturn in pace is that Radebaugh's 2011-12 team, which was his fastest to date, was also his best team. Moreover, most of the key contributors returned this season, including his 5-8 distributor Saah Nimley. So what gives? Well, part of this is schedule-induced. The Buccaneers have played several squads that slow things down, and judging by Radebaugh's comments after a loss to Alabama, it's likely he'll want his team to get out and run a bit more in future games. If they do pick up the pace a bit, it'll be interesting to learn if they lose the edge they've found on the offensive glass. The Bucs are grabbing close to 40 percent of their misses after several years of mediocre offensive rebounding, and they're cleaning up those boards against a respectable slate of opponents. For a team that makes just 41 percent of its twos, CSU needs all the second chances it can earn.

Georgia Southern
2012: 66.1 possessions per 40 minutes
2013: 59.1
Perhaps this slower incarnation of Georgia Southern is how Charlton Young has envisioned his team since he took over in 2009, and it just took a while getting to this point. Predecessor Jeff Price annually placed GSU among the nation's most up-tempo clubs, but Young has slowly and surely ratcheted down the pace in each of his four seasons. If this is indeed how the Eagles will play going forward, I'm not sure they're seeing much of a benefit yet. They've yet to make strides in any statistical category, and it appears their shooting has worsened under this approach. If they don't speed things up on their own, upcoming opponents Virginia Tech and UAB surely will.

Washington
2012: 70.8 possessions per 40 minutes
2013: 64.4
Lorenzo Romar historically instructs his team to push the pace as much as any coach in the country. In fact, last year's UW squad was the first one he's coached to average fewer than 70 possessions in regulation since KenPom began tracking such things in 2003. The trend downward has continued into 2012-13, though it's been a much more dramatic deceleration that what we saw a year ago. There's a scheduling effect here, as the Huskies have taken on the likes of Albany, Colorado State, and Saint Louis, all of which feature coaches who have a history of embracing a slower pace of play. But Romar also installed a new offense this season. In the preseason he noted that the Huskies should still maintain their fast-playing ways, but that statement was contingent upon his team forcing tons of turnovers and missed shots on the defensive end. Thus far, Washington has yet to record takeaways, and while they're forcing plenty of misses they're also allowing opponents to rebound said misses 38 percent of the time. Combine those tendencies with the fact that the players are still growing accustomed to the high-post offense, and you have a recipe for a team that has yet to find its rhythm.

Also decelerating....

Marquette: 4.7 fewer possessions per 40 minutes
Xavier: 4.6 fewer possessions
Saint Joseph's: 4.4 fewer possessions
Oakland: 4.3 fewer possessions
Long Island: 3.7 fewer possessions

Follow Corey Schmidt on Twitter: @cjschmidt1. This free article is an example of the content available to Basketball Prospectus Premium subscribers. See our Premium page for more details and to subscribe.

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