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Bryce Drew, Kevin Stallings, and Timeout Usage

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Debunking one of the dumber criticisms I’ve heard of Vanderbilt’s new head basketball coach.

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

February 18, 2015: Kevin Stallings manages to call three timeouts in the last three seconds of the game, including — on the final possession — calling a timeout after an inbounds pass to halfcourt. Of course, Vanderbilt still loses at Florida by a score of 50-47.

If you switched over to ESPNU prior to the Vanderbilt game on Tuesday, you saw the tail end of the Pitt-NC State game, and you saw a familiar sight: Kevin Stallings ending a game with unused timeouts.

For 17 years, Vanderbilt fans got used to the coach hoarding timeouts for the last minute of the game — you know, in case the coach absolutely had to draw up an inbounds play with two seconds left, as though the team wouldn’t know what to do without a reminder from the coach. At least that’s the theory.

But you’d also get a healthy dose of this:

March 15, 2016: Trailing 50-48 with 8:38 left in an opening round NCAA Tournament game, Vanderbilt’s offense ceases to function. Kevin Stallings finally calls timeout with 5:10 left; by that time, the score is 57-48.

Yeah, Stallings would always have timeouts available to draw up a play in the last minute of the game. Stallings’ efforts to hoard his timeouts for the end of the game, though, also frequently turned a 6-0 run into a 10-0 run.

On the other hand, Vanderbilt’s new coach has a different philosophy about timeout usage.

Yes, Drew often uses timeouts earlier than other coaches do. But what’s the value of saving a timeout to draw up a game winning play if the team is so far behind they never get to the game winning play situation?

Okay, so that article is about Bryce Drew’s brother, Baylor head basketball coach Scott Drew — who, well, gets criticized a lot for being a bad basketball coach and his timeout usage has something to do with that. Scott Drew also had Baylor — Baylor! — ranked #1 in the nation last week.

The conventional wisdom about timeout usage is that hoarding timeouts for the end of the game is good, and using timeouts frivolously in response to a couple of horrendous possessions is bad. But maybe we should stop to consider why, exactly, timeout hoarding became a thing: because Dean Smith did it. Dean Smith was a pioneer in a lot of ways — in fact, many statheads credit Smith as being one of the first to really do much with analytics — but some of his innovations had to do with the specific conditions of the time, and his timeout usage is one of them. Dean Smith hoarded all of his timeouts for the last minute because in those days, the clock did not stop after a made basket in the final minute of the game.

That rule was added prior to the 1993-94 season. Now, the clock stops after a made basket in the final minute, but much like the sacrifice bunt in baseball — which managers held onto long after the end of the dead-ball era made such tactics largely obsolete -- the conventional wisdom has held on for a long time, and mostly because people have forgotten why it became conventional wisdom in the first place.

In short, there are probably criticisms one could make of Bryce Drew’s coaching this season, but his timeout usage isn’t one of them.