Savannah State coach Horace Broadnax pulled a fast one on his players before the season, and now the Tigers have the fastest offense in Division I basketball.
''I told them when you're playing pickup games, push the ball, get the ball out quick and shoot the first available shot,'' he said. ''I tricked them. They thought they were running to get a shot. I was really wanting them to run to get into shape.''
When official practices started in October, Broadnax, whose Georgetown roots made him a stickler for strong defense, surprised his players when he told them they would carry the frenetic pace of those pickup games into the season.
So far, the system Broadnax calls ''organized rec ball with an IQ'' has produced eye-popping statistics but not many wins.
Savannah's average offensive possession lasts just 12.4 seconds, fastest in the country since at least 2010, according to kenpom.com. Half of the Tigers' shots occur in transition, meaning within 10 seconds of a steal, rebound or made basket by the opponent, according to Hoop-Math.com.
Their Division I-leading 40.8 3-point attempts per game and 14.6 makes are about twice the national average. Their 35.7-percent accuracy matches the average.
Senior guard Casey Wells might have the freakiest stat line in the country. Of his 111 shot attempts, only five have been 2-pointers.
''Who doesn't like shooting 3s?'' Wells said.
Broadnax said he was looking for a way to simplify yet make his offense more productive. He said he borrowed from the system developed by Citadel coach Duggar Baucom. Both programs face the same recruiting challenges as other low majors, where the game is played mostly by guys 6-foot-7 and smaller.
Baucom came up with the offense out of desperation a decade ago at VMI after he unexpectedly lost his star 6-9 post player. With no proven scorer around the basket, he turned to basketball analytics, which say shooting 33 percent on 3s is the same as shooting 50 percent on 2-pointers.
Baucom had 24- and 22-win seasons at VMI and even beat Kentucky. His 2007 team set Division I records for 3-pointers (442) and 3-point attempts (1,383), and he took the system with him when he was hired at the Citadel in 2015.
Savannah (6-12) and the Citadel (9-11) are the only Division I teams to have attempted 50 or more 3-pointers in a game this season, and one or the other was a participant in nine of the 10 games that have had the most 3s launched.
Baucom said the system mixes the pace of Paul Westhead's Loyola Marymount teams of a quarter-century ago, the spacing principles of dribble-drive guru Vance Walberg and the over-the-top love of the 3-point shot by David Arseneault's teams at Division III Grinnell College in Iowa.
''It's like a hockey shift. Every 3 minutes, here come five different guys,'' said Wofford coach Mike Young, whose team lost 104-103 to the Citadel on Jan. 2. ''You have to deal with things playing those guys that you don't deal with any other night during the year.''
So what does this offense - called ''the circus'' by Young - look like?
Typically, the point guard comes up the floor while his four teammates fan out on the perimeter. The point guard looks to beat his man on the dribble and, if he can, drive all the way to the basket. Usually another defender helps, so the point guard passes to a teammate on the perimeter. If that player is open, he shoots. If a defender closes out on him strongly, he puts the ball on the floor and either goes to the hoop or finds a teammate to shoot the 3.
The breakneck speed creates more possessions for both teams and, as a result, a lot of high-scoring games. Savannah and the Citadel have kinks to work out. The Citadel, which is second to Savannah in tempo with an average possession of 13.4 seconds, leads the nation in scoring at 95.6 points a game. Savannah State is 14th at 85.8. Problem is, both teams are allowing almost 99 a game.
Savannah plays mostly 2-3 zone defense. The Citadel deploys a full-court man-to-man defense.
Baucom said he considers a score of 110-102 to be no different than 60-52, win or lose.
Does he wish his defense could hold down opponents better? Of course.
''But that's not how we're geared,'' he said. ''We're geared to score.''
Same with the Tigers. And that's a big change.
''Just knowing Coach from last year, he was all defense,'' senior guard Troyce Manassa said. ''Usually last year he would get into guys for not playing defense. This year, he'll get into guys for not shooting the ball.''
The system runs counter to what Broadnax was taught playing for John Thompson at Georgetown. He was on the Hoyas' 1984 national championship team, and tough defense was Thompson's calling card.
''He probably would say I'm a damn fool for doing what I'm doing,'' Broadnax said.
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