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Brian Mull | NCAA.com | February 3, 2017

Taking a close look at teams thriving after timeouts

Mike Rhoades is in his third season as the coach at Rice. He’s trying to build a winner at a program unfamiliar with winning. In 103 seasons, Rice has lost 57 percent of its games. The Owls haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1970. They’ve finished with one winning record since 2005 and enjoyed just two 20-win seasons since Eisenhower was president.

At this point in the process, Rhoades lacks the personnel to beat the better teams in Conference USA, not to mention some of Rice's non-conference opponents. Stealing possessions and manufacturing points are imperative.

How? Taking open shots in transition is one route. Another?

Winning the scoring battle coming out of a timeout.

Executing and scoring on those 10-12 possessions per game is a priority for Rhoades and his staff, and the numbers reveal they’re excelling at it. According to Synergy Sports Technology data, the Owls are second in the nation in offensive efficiency after a timeout, scoring 1.081 points per possession (ppp), trailing only the turbo-charged offensive juggernaut of UCLA.

Rice is 14-8 this season -- that's already the most wins the program has had since 2011-12 -- with nine games remaining in the regular season. The Owls are 127th in KenPom, their best ranking since 2005.

  Rice Owls guard Marcus Jackson (22) is one of only four upperclassmen (one senior) on this team.
Their success out of timeouts starts with communication.

“Are we listening in the timeout? Are we going to do what we just talked about?” Rhoades says. “It’s a pet peeve of mine when guys walk out of a timeout and look at each other and say, ‘What are we doing?’ We have a real quick message in our timeout -- one voice. So in the huddle, assistants speak real quick, make their point, then let’s have one voice on one page so when we walk out, we’re executing.”

NCAA.com explored the Synergy data to identify teams that thrive exiting a timeout, then looked at teams whose post-timeout performance exceeds their efficiency the rest of the game. In many cases, the teams that are best in scoring or defending out of timeouts are simply good throughout the game. UCLA is scoring with amazing efficiency out of a timeout, at 1.083 ppp. No. 1 Gonzaga leads the nation in points allowed out of a timeout, at .536 ppp. (Then again, the Zags are also second in the nation in halfcourt defense, at .729 ppp. Scoring against coach Mark Few’s club is difficult. Period.)

Possessions after timeouts account for 15-18 percent of possessions in a game. The worst teams score around .7 ppp. Average teams score around .85 ppp. The best score more than 1.0 ppp. And there are many teams who execute better within seconds of receiving advice from the coaching staff.

Rice, for example scores .95 points on all halfcourt possessions (41st in the nation).

“We try to always be prepared for a man-to-man or zone play,” he says. “Let’s not panic if they change defense, go to man, zone or trap. We practice that, talk about it. Our guys are better because it’s an emphasis.”

Top 10 - points per possession after a timeout

Team

Poss. / Gm

PPP

UCLA

11.5

1.083

Rice

11.8

1.081

Mercer

11.3

1.069

FGCU

10.6

1.059

Hofstra

11.8

1.055

Loyola (IL)

11.3

1.042

UConn

12.2

1.037

Drexel

11.2

1.03

Incarnate Word

11.7

1.03

Arizona State

12.1

1.026

VCU coach Will Wade spends 10-15 minutes on out-of-bounds plays and situations in practice, admitting he probably goes "overboard." But the attention to detail pays off. The Rams are 18th in the nation in points allowed per possession (.702) after a timeout.

It’s not uncommon to hear a coach describe a loss or string of tough losses as one- or two-possession games that could’ve gone either way. That's why scouting grows more intense during conference play. Having an edge exiting the huddle often determines the difference between winning and losing.

  VCU head coach Will Wade (standing) says he goes "overboard" in practice when it comes to set plays.
Rice scores 12.7 points per game after a timeout, which leads the nation. (It allows 9.5.) More than half the teams in the nation score less than 10. There are 32 teams who score less than eight points per game after a timeout. A half-dozen, including Missouri of the SEC and East Carolina, score less than seven.

Most coaches agree the offense has the advantage coming out of a timeout, but only if they are prepared for a change in defense, a common coaching strategy.

Hofstra has struggled to an 11-13 record. There’s a bright spot, however. The Pride has scored on 48 percent of its possessions exiting a timeout, which leads the nation. Unlike Rhoades at Rice, Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich was unaware his team has performed so well out of the huddle.

It’s hardly a fluke, though. The Pride were top 30 each of the last two seasons as well.

The Pride works on out-of-bounds and deadball situations in practice, but interestingly enough spends the majority of time on the defensive end. (Hofstra is 293rd in the nation, allowing 10.7 points per game out of a timeout.)

“I think you look at the matchup. Who was playing well at the time, who has the hot hand,” Mihalich said. “Wouldn’t everybody do that? Who doesn’t do that?”

  Hofstra Pride center Rokas Gustys (11) has been a fixture down low for the Pride in CAA play.
This has been a difficult season at UConn. Injuries have decimated the starting lineup and hindered the Huskies’ offensive development. They are 244th in the nation, scoring .846 points per possession in the halfcourt. But coach Kevin Ollie’s timeouts have generated 1.037 points per trip, seventh in the nation.

Drexel is rebuilding under coach Zach Spiker, who took over the program after a successful run at Army. The Dragons have a freshman backcourt and erratic frontcourt, and have mustered only .866 points on the average halfcourt possession (204th in nation). They’ve thrived out of timeouts, though, producing 1.03 points on those 11.2 possessions each game. That should offer some hope for the future.

Of course, for every team trying to score after a timeout, there’s a team trying to stop them.

 Top 10 - points allowed per possession after a timeout

Team

Poss / Gm

PPP

Gonzaga

10.8

0.536

Harvard

11

0.588

Clemson

12.4

0.615

Oregon

11.2

0.646

Cincinnati

12

0.658

UMass

10.9

0.661

Oklahoma

12

0.672

Wisconsin

11.4

0.685

Minnesota

12.4

0.668

Yale

11.8

0.669

Advance scouting, game observation and gut instinct help coaches make the right call in a huddle. Clemson’s Brad Brownell is in his 15th season as a head coach. Over the years, he’s learned that the less information he heaps onto his players in a timeout, the better.

“Having a clear, concise message is important,” he said. “In a shorter timeout of 30 seconds it might be just giving them one thought as it pertains to what they’re trying to defend, preparation for something that could happen, anticipating, a couple of different play calls or whatever it is.”

The Tigers are 13-8 overall and 3-6 in the ACC, and some of their struggles can be traced to the defensive end, unusual for a Brownell team. In conference games, the Tigers are ninth in adjusted defensive efficiency. Yet, while they’ve allowed .833 points per possession in the halfcourt (100th in the nation), they trail only Gonzaga and Harvard in points allowed after timeouts (.615). Because most of his players tie their identity to their offensive production, Brownell suggests, their defense suffers as possessions drag on.

“You go back to who you are and maybe forget the details and what you practiced,” Brownell said. “Maybe we’re better coming out of timeouts because we’re reminding them of that.”

The words of wisdom also work on the other end for Clemson.

  Clemson forward Donte Grantham (15) and head coach Brad Brownell (right) know they have work to do.
The Tigers score 11.6 points a game after timeouts. They win the timeout battle by an average of four points a game.

UNC Asheville won the Big South last season, earning the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The Bulldogs are tied for first entering a trip to High Point this weekend. Part of their success is tied to winning the timeout game. Coming out on top of those dozen skirmishes in a 40-minute game is emphasized daily. In turn, they score 11.7 points out of timeouts and allow 9.2 per game, ranking in the top 25 nationally in point differential.

“We talk to our team that they’re the hidden possessions in a game, kind of like special teams in football,” McDevitt said. “Stay alert. Don’t give ‘em free baskets on baseline out-of-bounds plays. When we’re on defense let’s make ‘em play 5-on-5. The other guys are good enough, they’re going to score against our defense.”

Top 10 - point differential offense to defense out of timeout

Gonzaga

+5.0

23-0

UConn

+4.1

10-11

Clemson

+4.0

13-8

West Virginia

+3.6

18-4

Duke

+3.5

17-5

Florida Gulf Coast

+3.4

18-6

Vanderbilt

+3.4

11-11

Kansas State

+3.3

15-7

Rhode Island

+3.3

14-7

Rice

+3.2

14-8