College basketball needs a shot of adrenaline. The game has slowed to a crawl. It needs to be faster. It needs more action and excitement. It needs more scoring.
I’m not the only one who feels this way. Throughout this year’s NCAA tournament, there was talk of lowering the shot clock, which is currently 35 seconds. In a recent poll, nearly 60 percent of college coaches favored lowering the shot clock to 30 seconds. But that’s not the answer. A lot of people blame the one-and-done culture for the regression of college basketball, but that’s not the problem, either.
In this year’s tournament, teams averaged under 68 points per game. No team scored over 100 points. Not once.
What college basketball really needs is some run-and-gun. And that’s why I want to be a Division I basketball coach.
The highest-scoring offense in the history of college basketball was our Loyola Marymount team in 1989-90. We averaged 122 points per game. In 2014-15, the highest-scoring team averaged 84 points per game. That’s almost a 40-point difference. I was the leading scorer on that Loyola Marymount team — and the leading scorer in the nation that year — with 35 points per game. In 2014-15, the nation’s leading scorer scored 23 points per game.
Watch any college basketball game today and you’ll see the same thing: The point guard brings the ball up the court, and instead of attacking the defense and looking to score, he’s looking back at the coach for a play call.
That’s college basketball in the year 2015. It drives me crazy.
Take the Kentucky team we saw start 38-0 this past season. Now imagine that team — with all that length and speed and great guard play — playing a run-and-gun, transition-style offense. Instead of calling plays and slowing the ball down, they take it right to the defense every time down the floor, flying around the court and firing up shots left and right.
Would you watch? I would. I’d catch every game. That’d be must-see basketball, something college basketball in the regular season simply isn’t anymore.
That’s not a knock on Kentucky’s program or on Coach Calipari, who’s a Hall of Fame coach. They were still arguably the best team in the nation despite losing in the Final Four. It’s just an indication of the state of college basketball today, which is, in a word, boring.
The run-and-gun concept is simple: Create havoc. If you’re open, shoot. Crash the boards. On defense, play a full-court press. Trap everywhere, all the time.
If it sounds chaotic, that’s because it is.
Nolan Richardson was the last coach to truly deploy a run-and-gun system when he led Arkansas to the national championship in 1994. He called it 40 Minutes of Hell, which is what it was like for opposing teams. He ran the same uptempo system we ran under Paul Westhead at Loyola Marymount.
There’s a science to it. Paul Westhead understood that science, and I also understand it tremendously well.
We try to get a shot up within seven seconds of getting possession and we force turnovers and bad shots with our full-court pressure and trap defense. Basically, we’re going to shoot more than you, so odds are, we’re going to score more points.
And the last time I checked, the team that scores the most points wins.
The most common rebuttal against this philosophy — and the way most teams tried to combat us at Loyola Marymount — is to use up the shot clock and slow the ball down like you would against a no-huddle offense in football. That sounds simple, but in reality, if you take the air out of the ball, you’re actually playing right into our gameplan and you don’t even know it.
When you slow the game down, you make every possession that much more valuable for yourself, and the few times you do shoot the ball, you’re putting more pressure on yourself to make those shots, because if you miss, you know we’re running right to the basket on the other end. The reality is, you’re going to miss shots. Everyone does. And if we’re running and gunning and taking more shots than you, you’re going to fall behind, and you’ll eventually have to abandon your gameplan and speed your game up to catch up.
It’s not just a run-and-gun offense. The defensive component is crucial to this system. We’re putting constant pressure on the ball-handler so he can’t just dribble around and kill time — he has to make a move, either himself or by passing the ball. We’re constantly trapping, so good luck finding a safe place to go.
The key is in the conditioning. We’ll be playing our style every day in practice, and we’ll be the best-conditioned athletes on the court. So even if other teams spend a week or two before the game working on their conditioning, it won’t equate to what we’ve done for months on end.
When a team gets physically tired, mental mistakes and turnovers happen. When we’re bringing constant full-court pressure and trapping every chance we get, those turnovers come in bunches, especially when the opponent’s fatigue sets in. So if you’re trying to slow the ball down, but we’re constantly in your face and you’re getting tired, those passes out of traps won’t be as crisp. They won’t be as fundamentally sound. We get teams throwing the ball all over the court.
It’s the defense that made our Loyola Marymount team historic. The defense creates the offense. That’s the beauty of the system. People don’t notice the defense because they’re too in awe of the offense that shoots a lot and scores 100 points. They forget that our Loyola Marymount team had 14 steals per game and forced 24 turnovers a game.
We don’t foul. We don’t call timeouts. We even hated TV timeouts. Anything that stopped the game, we didn’t like it. We wanted you running, and running and running, non-stop.
Implementing this system would give a program a huge edge in recruiting, too. Imagine you’re a recruit and a coach comes to your home, sits on your living room couch and says:
If you play for me, you can shoot every time you touch the ball. You’re going to shoot 30-plus times a game. We’re going to win games and score 100 points every night, and a huge chunk of those points will be yours. Sure, you could go to Duke or Kentucky, but you won’t even get 20 shots a game. You have All-American potential now, but wait until you see your numbers when you’re running my system. You’re going to shine brighter than you ever shined before.
How’s that for a pitch?
And even if you were coaching at a smaller school and you couldn’t recruit the best high school players in the country, the system still works. You don’t need a Bo Kimble or a Hank Gathers to run the system. You just need everyone on the team to buy in and be committed. In fact, if you don’t have the talent that your opponents have, you’d better run this system, because if you try to beat more talented teams at their own game, you’re going to get blown out because you can’t match up. If you run-and-gun, you can take a more talented team out of its comfort zone and use your conditioning to your advantage.
Forget who’s more talented. An energized team will beat a tired team almost every time.
Fans would love the fast-paced, high-scoring games. Ratings would go through the roof. Players would love it. When you’re a guy who can fly all over the place and can shoot, or if you’re a rebounder who can run and score — like so many guys are these days — do you want to be kept in a cage, or do you want to run and gun and do what you do best? It would rejuvenate any team that adopted the system.
There are many different ways to win championships. You have the Princeton offense, the swing offense and a handful of motion and flex offenses. You have teams that dedicate themselves to defense. But the best-scoring offense in the history of college basketball is the Loyola Marymount run-and-gun. And that’s the goal, right? To score more points than the opponent?
So why would you run anything else?
I’m so passionate about this game, and I see what I see in today’s game and I hear what the fans say about the way the game is played, and they want more excitement. They want more scoring. And I don’t blame them.
I’ve visualized everything I’ve achieved in my life. Now, I visualize myself being a Division I head coach and bringing back Paul Westhead’s run-and-gun system.
I just hope and pray that when I am blessed enough to get that opportunity that every other team keeps playing the way they’re playing now — slow and methodical — because when I do bring back the run-and-gun, it’s going to shock college basketball.