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How Did The Shot Clock Affect Marquette Women’s Lacrosse?

The Golden Eagles set a program record for goals in the 1st year of the 90 second clock. Better shooting or faster play?

Marquette women’s lacrosse

For the first four years of Marquette women’s lacrosse, pace of play went ungoverned by anything but the whistle from a referee. In 2017, however, the NCAA instituted a 90 second shot clock. From the moment a player takes possession of the ball, the clock starts ticking. The team has a minute and a half to put a shot on goal - shots that go wide or high don’t count - otherwise they turn the ball over to the other team.

Marquette set a program record for goals scored in 2017 with 219. No change in the number of games played, as they’ve played 17 every season. For the first time in program history, though, head coach Meredith Black’s squad surpassed the 180 goal mark.

On the other end of the field, Marquette also allowed 240 goals. That’s the most goals allowed since the program’s first season in 2013, when they let in 254 with mostly freshmen on the roster, and it’s just the second time (the other one was that first season, obviously) that they allowed more than 200 goals in a season.

With such significant increases in balls shaking the twine on both ends of the field, it raises an obvious question: Did the shot clock speed play up to cause an increase in scoring in Marquette’s games, or was there something else at work?

Here’s a handy-dandy chart laying out Marquette’s scoring statistics over the five year history of women’s lacrosse on campus. We’ve got goals scored (obviously), along with shooting percentage, goals per possession, and offensive possessions per game.

Women's Lacrosse Offensive Stats

Year Goals Scored Shooting % Goals/Off. Poss Off. Poss/Game
Year Goals Scored Shooting % Goals/Off. Poss Off. Poss/Game
2013 105 0.370 0.252 24.5
2014 139 0.416 0.292 28.0
2015 128 0.369 0.272 27.6
2016 177 0.414 0.316 33.0
2017 219 0.429 0.358 36.0

I think it’s clear that the shot clock had some impact on the Marquette offense setting a record for goals in a season. There’s a jump of three possessions per game to a record high of 36, which is not an insignificant boost. It’s not the nearly six possession jump that Marquette showed between 2015 and 2016, though, and with MU recording more offensive possessions than defensive possessions for the first time in program history, I don’t think even the jump in possessions is completely attributable to the shot clock. I also don’t think we can say that the jump completely responsible for the record number of goals. MU had a record number of goals per possession, and by a pretty wide margin. That can be attributed to the record high shooting percentage, so while Marquette had more chances to score than ever before, they were also more accurate than ever.

It’s a mixed bag of results there. Clearly the shot clock helped a little bit to boost possessions. When you set a record for possessions per game in the first year with a shot clock, you can’t deny that there’s some impact. Marquette also scored on a higher percentage of their shots than ever before, though, and the mere act of being more accurate in shooting helps raise the possession numbers. When the ball goes in, a new possession starts on the draw, so sending more shots in causes higher possession numbers in the game. The higher possessions had to have a bit of an effect on the record number of goals, but being more accurate and thus more efficient is probably more responsible.

Onwards to how the defense dealt with the shot clock....

Women’s Lacrosse Defensive Stats

Year Goals Against Shooting % Goals Against/Poss Def. Poss/Game
Year Goals Against Shooting % Goals Against/Poss Def. Poss/Game
2013 254 0.473 0.491 30.4
2014 194 0.475 0.365 31.3
2015 169 0.432 0.321 30.9
2016 177 0.436 0.312 33.4
2017 240 0.433 0.393 35.9

.....Well, that’s weird. Marquette had a near record number of goals against this season, but also nearly set a record for the best defensive shooting percentage in program history. How is goals against per possession so far up in 2017 against the two previous seasons when shooting percentage is essentially the same in all three seasons?

Let’s see if we had a couple of columns into this chart....

Women’s Lacrosse Def. Stats With Shots

Year Goals Against Shots Against Shots On Goal Against Shooting % Goals Against/Poss Def. Poss/Game
Year Goals Against Shots Against Shots On Goal Against Shooting % Goals Against/Poss Def. Poss/Game
2013 254 537 409 0.473 0.491 30.4
2014 194 408 308 0.475 0.365 31.3
2015 169 391 283 0.432 0.321 30.9
2016 177 406 290 0.436 0.312 33.4
2017 240 554 394 0.433 0.393 35.9

Ok, so that explains it. A record number of shots against and a near record of shots on goal against. The shooting percentage is kept low by opponents missing the net completely more than ever, but for the most part, those misses just result in a restart for the offense, thus extending the possession. That’s how you can have a low shooting percentage but a high goals per possession number: Marquette wasn’t ending possessions as effectively as they had in the past. Forcing a horrible shot isn’t as useful to a defense as forcing an easily saved shot. Elsewhere on defense, Marquette caused nearly 30 fewer turnovers than the year before. That’s nearly two more possessions per game that ended with an opponent shooting, plus the two-plus more possessions per game increase from 2016. That’ll put a bit of a damper on your defensive efficiency.

That last part is probably where the shot clock had the biggest impact on Marquette’s season. The clock clearly had some kind of effect on going from 33.4 possessions in 2016 to 35.9 this season, and fewer caused turnovers means longer possessions, generally speaking. Even with longer possessions, the opposing offenses had more cracks at the Marquette net than in the past, so that seems to indicate a certain amount of speeding up caused by the clock.

Here’s a question, though: Did the shot clock make opponents more willing to shoot? Does that explain the higher volume of shots, especially the higher volume of missed shots? With the clock ticking down, were opponents firing away with more abandon? Maybe they’d get lucky and Jules Horning or Molly Grozier, whichever netminder was playing for Marquette, would merely deflect their shot away and they would retain possession for another 90 seconds?

Next spring we’ll revisit all of this and see how things have changed now that Black and her staff have one full season of coaching with the clock under their belts.