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Taking early three-point shots? Check. Going all out for steals? Check. Playing faster than fast? Always. Savannah State is pushing basketball trends to their extremes, and the outcome is mesmerizing, win or lose. “I don’t wanna be fired,” Horace Broadnax says. “But I think I’ll be disappointed if I was, and then life would go on.” I’ve asked a weird question, sort of. Broadnax, the 54-year-old coach of Savannah State’s men’s basketball team, is not on the edge of being fired. He’s starting his 14th year helming the Tigers, a team he took over in 2005 when it was coming off an 0-28 season. He’s guided them from conference independence into the MEAC, where they compete with 12 other schools and beat them more often than not. They were 12-4 in the conference last year, tied for first in the regular season, and have usually had winning league records. But the reason Broadnax’s future can never be totally certain is that nobody’s ever coached a basketball team like he’s currently coaching Savannah State. There’s no roadmap for a team that plays like his Tigers play — certainly not in the NBA, and likely not in college, either, though the college game has less reliable statistical records than the pro game. SSU’s style is historically weird in two areas: Pace. If the Tigers are not the most pacy team in history, they’re at least close. The last two years, they’ve been No. 1 in Ken Pomeroy’s opponent-adjusted tempo, averaging between 81 and 83 possessions per 40 minutes. A few teams have posted slightly higher numbers going back to the early part of the century. In 2016-17, their average possession lasted 12.1 seconds, the shortest since Pomeroy started tracking that in 2009-10. Shot selection. In 2016-17, a full 57.4 percent of their shots from the field were three-pointers. That’s the highest proportion Pomeroy or Sports Reference has ever tracked, going back to 1992 , and it’s a higher rate of triples than any NBA team has ever attempted. Given the newness of the three-point line, which only went national in the late 1980s, and the sport’s conservative style in the past, it’s a safe bet that no Division I men’s team’s ever shot threes with such frequency. They remained tops in three frequency last year and likely will again. This cocktail has helped the Tigers at some points and gotten them into trouble at others. Those are the results of a choice Broadnax made two years ago when, after years of playing slowly and barely shooting threes at all, the coach decided to change everything. In doing that, he’s created one of basketball’s most fascinating science projects, with mixed results. Wherever the experiment goes from here, Broadnax’s team will help answer a question: Just how far can a pace-and-space style possibly go and still work? It will also, at some point, probably determine the head coach’s future. “Where I’m at in my career, I feel a little bit confident and feel OK if they came if they came and gave me the pink slip,” Broadnax says. “And I think that’s why it works, to a certain degree, because I’m not gonna change in the middle of the stream. If it gets ugly, it gets ugly.” This is not an atypical possession: Broadnax decided to give this a try before the 2016-17 season. That year, the NCAA declared SSU ineligible for postseason play because of lagging Academic Progress Rate scores. Broadnax had spent six seasons coaching the Tigers as an indy and became fearful of players getting bored when they don’t have anything of substance to win. Moving in this direction was also a strong fit for the Tigers’ tiny roster, with no one taller than 6’7. “I had to do something to try to keep the kids interested toward the end of the year,” Broadnax says. “Allowing them to shoot the ball when they’re open and not having any consequences for taking good, open shots: ‘You know, if you’re open, take it.’” Overnight, Savannah State transformed. They went from 285th in adjusted pace to first. They went from 90th in three-point attempts rate (and 338th the year before that) to first. They went from 349th in offensive efficiency — almost dead last in Division I — to 248th. But they went from 161st to 333rd on defense, as teams mauled them inside. Broadnax knew this was going to happen. Before, he said, “we wanted to score, but I emphasized defense so much that it took away from the offensive side. It’s difficult. Very seldom teams excel on both ends of the court. It’s either one or the other, and I think when I first came here, I emphasized the defensive side more so than the offensive side.” When the coach explains how these puzzle pieces fit together, it makes sense. They like to play a 2-3 zone when they can, though it’s let some teams dice them up. But the zone’s important, because Broadnax doesn’t feel like having his players tire themselves out chasing people on defense. It positions them to start running after the shot, and that’s the most important thing. Any exertion on defense runs counter to SSU’s goals. Anything that might put the other team on the foul line is a total disaster to the strategy. Jumping to block shots? No. Risking a foul, thus letting the other team rest and score points with the clock stopped? Absolutely not. Giving up points? Well, it can be OK. “If you look at some of our games, sometimes I was like, ‘Come on, man. You didn’t even try to guard that guy,’” Broadnax says. “I had emphasized that to a certain degree: ‘Let’s not foul. If they get an easy basket, let’s go and try to get the basket right quick, and we’ll be right back where we started from.’ I don’t like them fouling.” When a shot goes up, SSU starts running. If there’s a decent three, the Tigers take it. If there’s not a decent three, the Tigers may very well still take it. “A lot of times, the first shot available when we’re pushing it is pretty much an open three,” Broadnax says. “People have a tendency to run to the paint and then space out, as opposed to run out to the three-point line. So we’ll try to take threes.” That defensive inclination can lead to open, high-percentage triples, like here: Broadnax only considers himself an analytics man to an extent. He says this is like what the Rockets do in the NBA. But as boundary-pushing as Houston’s been, they haven’t taken three-point-firing to the same level Savannah State has. The Rockets’ last full two seasons are the two three-pointiest team years in NBA history, and they just barely cracked 50 percent of their total field goal attempts from deep last year, when SSU was at 55.4 percent. When this style works, it’s a thing of beauty. A bunch of shots fall, and the Tigers can beat the Pac-12’s Oregon State 93-90 while going 17-of-32 from deep. When it does not work, it’s a special kind of brutal. Savannah State will always lose to a team of Oregon’s caliber, but in this instance, it can lose 128-59, going 11-for-50 on threes and letting Oregon shoot 42-of-55 inside the arc with 19 offensive rebounds — an offensive board on 53 percent of their misses against the 241st-tallest team in DI. The Tigers try to compensate for their size by sending three or four players to crash after all of their misses. They rarely succeed there, but defensive rebounding’s the big issue. “We’re trying to emphasize that a little bit better, but that’s gonna be one of our Achilles heels and one of our weaknesses,” Broadnax acknowledges. Their greatest hope on defense is that their lightning pace will tire out offenses and help with turnovers. They’re not a full-on press team like West Virginia, as that’d tire them out for offense. But under Broadnax, they’re usually near the top of the sport in defensive turnover rate. The hope is to capitalize on fatigued, disoriented opponents getting sloppy. He sometimes brings up something Muhammad Ali once told George Foreman in the ring: “This is the worst place to get tired, young fella. You’re here all by yourself and the referee can’t help you.’” How much this chaos creation works remains inconclusive. Pomeroy’s metrics say the Tigers are one of the worst teams in DI. That’s because the MEAC has been the country’s worst conference, and opponent adjustments mean advanced numbers don’t care for SSU’s successes. They also don’t care for last year’s 3-12 non-conference record. But the ultimate goal for SSU is to win its conference, and this strategy might get it there. The wild card is shot-making. The Tigers started shooting more efficiently when they started this overhaul two years ago, but they’ve long been near the bottom of Division I there. They’re still well below average nationally and just middling in the MEAC. What would happen if the team that shoots a billion threes made more of them? “I think if we raised our three-point shooting from what it was last year, 30 percent, to 35 percent, then things start to get very interesting,” Broadnax says. Maybe their practice of immediately slinging the ball up the court and firing pays dividends. Maybe they become the MEAC’s version of giant-killing Wichita State, the program everyone outside the power conferences has wanted to be for years. “It’s not an athlete in the country that is more athletic than the movement of a basketball,” Broadnax says. “And that’s basically, if we can move that ball, Power 5s are not that athletic where they can constantly guard the ball, the movement of the ball. We wanna push it and move it fast and get the first available shot.” Maybe none of that works out, and maybe the Tigers don’t make anyone else feel comfortable taking speed and threes as far as they have. That’s not their concern, nor is looking terrible when it doesn’t work. Broadnax knows it sometimes won’t, especially against the teams from the power leagues. “I’m gonna get beat up by the fans, because they’re gonna say, ‘Why you taking all these threes?’” Broadnax says, as we’re about to hang up. “But we have to look at 16 games in the Mid-Eastern Athletic. So you have to be committed to it, and I think I am, because it’s fun. It’s frustrating, too, but it’s fun when it clicks.”