If you're gonna go please be in the first round.
What's The Big Deal About Pace Anyway?
OR: GONE IN 0.6 SECONDS
One of the weirdest things about the recent Big Ten expansion—let me start over.
One of the least weird things that was still weird about the recent Big Ten expansion was a particular reaction from Maryland basketball fans deriding the Big Ten for being slow-it-down bore ball. Anyone who's listened to fans from conferences other than the Big Ten has probably heard the refrain about how the league is like watching Charles Oakley and Ben Wallace headbutt each other to death.
It's true that the Big Ten tends to have big burly defenses, but the Big Ten's long-held reputation for slowness has always been bizarre to me. Thanks to Michigan State bloggers' insatiable desire to scatterplot things, here's a visual representation of that. Rightward is faster, higher is more variation within the conference:
This is a tightly bunched random assortment on a scale that essentially goes from 65 to 69. Most of the conferences to the right are small outfits, and there's barely any differentiation to get worked up about anyway. The slowest major conference in the country is the Big Ten, yeah, at about 65.6 possessions. The fastest is the Pac-12 at about 67.6 possessions.
That difference is beyond negligible. The average Pac-12 fan sees a shot ending in a make, free throws, or defensive rebound every 17.7 seconds. The average Big Ten fan only enjoys this experience every 18.3 seconds. Take a fan from a Pac-12 team and give him a blind taste test between the two leagues and he won't comment on the pace, he'll ask "where is all the writhing incompetence?" and "why is this fun?" about one of the games before deciding he cannot possibly be watching the Pac-12. (Readers are not encouraged to try a similar experiment in football.)
For the Maryland fans still drunk on Gary Williams telling his guys to scream down the court, the difference was larger. Significantly so? Well. The fastest Terp outfit I could find in Kenpom roared up and down the court for 75.5 possessions a game, second in the country, which meant Maryland fans saw a shot go up every 15.9 seconds. (They did this en route to the NIT, FWIW). I'll grant that on a team level things can seem a lot different…
…but even there you have a couple of major outliers amongst a pack in which the differences in fast break opportunities are small enough to chalk up to chance. That looks like a normal distribution to me.
The differences here just aren't that large. Tempo free stats are excellent for parsing out the outliers like that Maryland team and correctly diagnosing things like rebounding that regular stats are hilariously wrong about, but when it comes to aesthetics, no conference pushes the ball up the floor enough for there to be significant differences. Except the WAC, because WAC is gonna WAC even if they don't play football anymore. Viva WAC.
Anyway, the next time someone garrumphs at you about how boring the Big Ten is, wait 0.6 seconds and scream at him, then tell him that's how much longer you have to wait to see a possession end. Bonus: he will probably stop being friends with you at this point so you won't have to have more annoying hot-sprots-take conversations with him.