Tempo and Pace

Tempo or pace is the number of possessions a team uses in a game.

Remember the 4 Corner offense? Dean Smith preferred to play a slower tempo to limit their opponents’ possessions.

Today, there is a shot clock, and the 4 Corner offense likely wouldn’t be as effective.

Why is tempo or pace important?

Not all teams have the same preferences. Some teams like to play fast or up-tempo. Other teams want to slow the game down.

Tempo and pace have a huge impact on the amount of possessions in a game. And possessions are the foundation of efficiency.

The amount of possessions a team averages per game is because of their own tempo or pace, and their opponent’s tempo or pace.

A team’s average pace is a result of how they prefer to play and how their opponents prefer to play.


Tempo or pace indicate a team’s style of play.

For example, Virginia historically plays at a slower pace. They value the basketball and take quality shots late in their possessions. This reduces the total number of possessions in their games.

Virginia averages around 60 possessions per game.

In contrast, North Carolina plays a faster tempo. The Tar Heels run the secondary break and try to score as quick as possible on the offensive end. This can increase the amount of possessions in their games.

North Carolina averages about 74 possessions per game.

Is there a right or wrong way to play?

No. This is the beauty of college basketball.

In 2018-2019, with contrasting styles, both Virginia and North Carolina were among the top ranked teams in the country throughout the season. Both were 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

But what happens when teams with contrasting styles play each other?

This is the reason why adjusted efficiency and tempo exists.