What’s more valuable to a basketball coach in a play-or-go-home game: one possession five minutes into the game, or a time-out?
This rather unusual thought crossed my mind while watching the Texas Lady Longhorns play Penn in their first round NCAA Tournament game today.
As the game reached the four-minute mark, UT held an 8-7 advantage although the smaller Ivy Leaguers had already hustled their way to three offensive rebounds in a mere six possessions.
An official/media time-out was scheduled for the next whistle in what had been a very smooth flow of play. A common foul had been charged to each team and the ball had found its way out of bounds a time or two, but those were the only interruptions.
Five Lady Quaker points on back-to-back field goals got Texas coach Karen Aston up off the bench. Basketball 101 strongly mandates that a coach interrupt the course of play at this point and get her team re-focused.
As Sydney Stipanovich’s short jumper settled into the net giving Penn a 12-8 edge, exactly three and a half minutes had elapsed since last an official had tooted. Simple probability suggests that a misplay of some sort was over-due – a deflected pass, a reach-in foul, an open wound, something!
Coach Aston paused long enough for her team to inbound the ball, then made her request. (Many coaches at both the pro and college level wait until the ball has been advanced to the frontcourt before calling such a TO.)
The governance of time-outs in the age of televised sports can get a little complicated. NCAA contractual obligations require four commercial breaks per half, so a coffee break is imposed at the first natural pause in the game every four minutes, i.e. the first whistle under the 16:00, 12:00, 8:00 and 4:00 marks. Additionally, each team is afforded five discretionary time-outs to be used for strategic purposes (although only four may be carried over into the second half of the game).
All coaches seem predisposed to hoard their time-outs for use in end-of-game situations; thus the college game has come to be played in four-minute segments. When this routine is disrupted, intervention is often required – as was the case with the young Lady Horns.
But was burning a precious time-out the only immediate option at this point?
Consider this scenario: Instead of asking the official for a time-out, Coach Aston hollers “Throw me the ball!” to her point guard. The poor kid is either discombobulated into an error or is induced to comply.
Sure you’re forfeiting a possession, but the psychological impact of such a tactic, properly handled, can be worth much more.
Screwy idea, I know, but…
Speaking of Time-Outs
I got spoiled while watching Olympic basketball a couple of summers ago…not the quality of the play so much (which was actually quite good), but rather the pace of play – particularly the infrequency of time-outs
Not only were there no pre-scheduled stoppages in play, but only the head coach was allowed to request a time-out. And an official was allowed to grant such a request only when the ball was dead (i.e. when play had stopped).
Alas, such a set-up wouldn’t correspond to the business model of modern day sports, huh?