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BTI’s Rants and Ramblings: What Does Fun Basketball Look Like?


Let’s all be honest for a second and look internal for a minute.  If you are willing to do that you have to admit that coaches of all level college basketball have a commonly used way to sucker the fans into thinking they are going to enjoy the basketball they see more: FUN.  We’ve heard coaches say it often: “this is gonna be a fun team”.  And usually by fun, what a coach is suggesting is that his team is going to play more up tempo.  That is what we have been led to believe, right?  Up tempo is fun and slow down is boring.  

Hell, Rick Pitino is out there right now telling everybody who will listen that his 2016-17 UL squad will play more like his 1996-97 Kentucky teams than any other team he has coached since.  And fans eat it up.  UL fans are expecting a full court press, lots of 3’s, fast breaks, steals.  Everything we have been told is fun basketball.  Now, let’s also face the fact that Pitino is full of crap.  He has been playing a defense-first system for more than a decade at UL and has never really played the same style of play there as he did at Kentucky.  To think a guy as stubborn and ego-driven will suddenly flip in a year is absurd.  But hey, the fans are happy.

Well, we’ve also heard that this Kentucky team might be “the most fun of the Cal era”.  I don’t know about you but the teams that win the most are usually the most fun for me.  But some would argue they would take a couple more losses a year if their team would score 10 more points a game and shoot the long ball.  So, what are we actually going to see from UK this year?  Up tempo game, right?  Here is UK’s TEMPO RATING nationally over Cal’s first 7 years:

Tempo Ranking Nationally
2015-16: 220th (Round of 32)
2014-15: 271st (Final Four)
2013-14: 221st (Final Four)
2012-13: 168th (NIT)
2011-12: 147th (NCAA Champs)
2010-11: 203rd (Final Four)
2009-10: 65th (Elite 8)

Cal’s teams have had a mixed bag of tempo’s played.  John Wall’s team was the fastest of the bunch and this year’s team has been compared to that one the most.  If this year plays out like that team did, it should be a fun year.  But what is very interesting is three of Cal’s four slowest paced teams, all ranked outside the Top 200 nationally, made the Final Four.  And his quickest team didn’t.  Some would say that is only because of an anomaly game against West Virginia in 2010.  I wouldn’t disagree with that.

But the point is that quicker might not always be better.  The Final Four teams from 2016 and their tempo rating:

Oklahoma: 93rd
North Carolina: 94th
Villanova: 266th
Syracuse: 322nd

It’s not as if UK’s guards have been the slowest bums on earth after John Wall.  But more often than not, UK actually slows it down over the course of a season.  There is no doubt after watching the Blue-White game that UK CAN play very fast this season.  They have the guards to do it.  But if that speed leads to sloppier play, I think Cal will still be quick to pull the trigger and slow the game down.  The numbers would suggest that.  But I wonder what you will think:

If the chances to go to the Final Four didn’t change, would you rather have a 31-3 team that plays a slower pace or a 28-6 team that plays quick?  And if the quicker team is sloppier but more entertaining, would you still rather have that team than a clean, slower team?


Article written by Bryan the Intern

17 Comments for BTI’s Rants and Ramblings: What Does Fun Basketball Look Like?

  1. za
    8:14 am November 2, 2016 Permalink

    Very interesting write up

  2. jonthes
    8:40 am November 2, 2016 Permalink

    Tyler alone made last year’s team the most fun to watch of any I’ve seen (since 1968). It’s the players who determine that. Even if UK flamed out early by our standards. Anthony Davis was a close second, and Issel third. Watching them create new wrinkles in the game was great fun.

  3. jrdh13
    8:41 am November 2, 2016 Permalink

    if its not quite as slow as tubby smith slow im fine with it.. I hate last second of shot clock possessions..

    • smahurin
      8:56 am November 2, 2016 Permalink

      Actually cal’s teams outside of 09 have played at the same pace or slower than tubby’s teams. Tubby’s teams usually ranked between 150-180 in terms of pace. As BTI’s post lays out, people perceived his style as “less” fun because he lost more games than cal. The reality is, the tempo was the same.

      I love cal, so don’t take this as a knock, but BTI laid it out perfectly. Coaches spin things. Cal went with a semi-dribble drive motion offense (with some set play) his first season. Every other season that UK has played they’ve used a very methodical pace and run strictly a set offense. He generally doesn’t like to full court press because it can expose you on the break, and his teams are usually so good in the half court defensively. I like fast paced play, but I like winning more. And Cal has proven he can win. I’m fine with whatever style he plays, as he’s proven he can and will be successful with it.

    • za
      9:55 am November 2, 2016 Permalink

      Are you using their rankings to determine that or comparing the real speeds to each other? The game definitely has gotten faster.

  4. rainman
    8:42 am November 2, 2016 Permalink

    I LOVE up-tempo as much as anyone, but turnovers drive me crazy,
    so whatever Cal chooses is OK with me!

  5. ClutchCargo
    8:44 am November 2, 2016 Permalink

    Good question. I think it’s fun to watch my team be one of the best out there. Tubby’s style of play wasn’t a thing of beauty, but there were a couple of years there in the mid-2000’s when those teams were most certainly fun to watch. I think team chemistry is by far the most important factor.

  6. Sentient Third Eye
    9:02 am November 2, 2016 Permalink

    Since Cal has been here, we have had the most dominant collection of big men since UCLA in the late sixties and early seventies. That has tended to slow the tempo a bit because we are so often working the ball inside to victimize outmatched opponents in the paint.

  7. E Cat
    9:06 am November 2, 2016 Permalink

    Good article by BTI. I think a big factor to our offensive tempo ranking is our defense. Our D has been so strong in the Cal Era that it slows the game down, hence slows our tempo and the tempo of who we’re playing.

    Cal is a superior defensive coach and recruits great rim protectors. Coach K is the best offensive teacher/coach, but Cal is one of the best defensive coaches in the country.

  8. BlueGrass
    9:12 am November 2, 2016 Permalink

    It makes sense slower, less turnover prone, teams would win at a higher clip over large sample sizes. The data heads in the NBA know that over large samples possessions per game is one of the most important stats in determining winning teams. Our data bears that out as well.

    You play to win the game. I don’t care if we shoot granny shots 100% of the time if we went undefeated. Give me the wins.

  9. BlueGrass
    9:13 am November 2, 2016 Permalink

    Cal says himself, “This isn’t for funsies”. Just win baby!

  10. mahatma
    10:02 am November 2, 2016 Permalink

    Didn’t the 13-14 team make it to the Championship game, not just the Final Four?

  11. az1006
    10:05 am November 2, 2016 Permalink

    Calipari’s teams at Kentucky have actually benefited from playing slow because of their collective prowess at defending in the half court. Cal’s teams don’t press a whole lot, and don’t gamble for steals often, but are consistently some of the most efficient and productive defenses in the country. An uptempo offensive style can be collateral damage of that, but tempo across the board slows in the postseason and teams that can guard in the half-court have the best chance to win. I’ll take that over a “fun” offense any day

  12. E Cat
    10:16 am November 2, 2016 Permalink

    Great point. You have to be able to, at some point, play proficiently in a half-court setting because someone will eventually force you.

    For instance, UK in the 1994-95 season was a really good team. But teams with good PG play that could slow the tempo forced that UK team to play in the half court, and when they did, they weren’t nearly as good. The 1995-96 team’s brilliance was that it could play both tempos well.

    This team might actually press just a tad more at times, but half-court D will as usual be its bread and butter. Never thought Cal was that interested in pressing and when the do they aren’t very effective at trapping and being physical in the corners. I like their defensive philosophy as is. The O sometimes worries me with his teams by lack of motion/execution or lack of shooting. But think this team is pretty well equipped in those areas.

  13. @GoCayts
    1:13 pm November 2, 2016 Permalink

    I would say we are ranked low in tempo more due to our defense than our offense. Cal recruits tall and long guys that make it difficult for other teams to get into their offense. It looks like our slowest team was our 14/15 team which was a really good defensive team. With Willie, KAT, Dakari, Trey playing the 3, etc. we always had a big team out there. Think of the first half of our schedule and the teams we played and how low their scores were (UCLA, ha). People have a hard time figuring out Syracuse’s zone, also and look at their tempo rank. Also, when you’re a good team, a lot of teams are going to try to slow you down and limit the # of possessions in a game regardless of what you do. Lastly, we have a lot of player turnover, so the guys are learning how to play together during the course of the year. I’m glad they lowered the shot clock, I think that will help us, but the way our program runs, I don’t think we’ll ever be highly ranked in tempo.

  14. EdC
    4:49 pm November 2, 2016 Permalink

    For me fun to watch doesn’t have much to do with pace. I’m not saying purposefully slow it down because that isn’t fun in any way. If you don’t believe that go look at some scores from when Dean Smith forced the NCAA to institute a shot clock.

    Fun is winning of course but beyond that it is mostly unselfishness. It is making the right pass, setting everyone up for their best productivity on the offense. It can be 4 crisp passes for an open shot or a single long pass.

    Great D is fun to watch. Sometimes it helps pace. Sometimes it doesn’t.

    Fun is guys that play for each other and the team and are looking to help each other look and play better. That is on offense, defense and from the bench. When you see a bench full of joyful players that is fun for me to watch.

  15. drmac_15
    5:58 pm November 2, 2016 Permalink

    I’ll take 31-3 every time…
    I lose a lot of sleep when we have 6+ losses…

    I agree with the defensive statements above setting our pace over the last few years. We’ll have countless defensive possessions where the opposing team can’t get into their offense until well under 15 seconds on the shot clock. All those shot clock violations equal side out possessions and opposing team defenses set up.
    We also ‘soft press’ to eat up shot clock. We are usually long and athletic at every position because of the type recruits Cal pursues. This is our scheme that works for the constant NBA producing machine that Cal has created….
    Cal says it all the time that he focuses on doing defense right early and adding offense later in the season.

    That ’96 team was fun to watch….deep, pressing, veteran. That team was 4-5 seasons in the making under Pitino recruiting and the style he wanted.

    2 of those terms won’t fit todays game, NBA rules, and Cal recruiting.

    Plus its going to be a 30 second shot clock….Really, how slow could it be? Lol