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Turnovers, Possessions, And The Kansas Jayhawks

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In this year's College Basketball Prospectus, John Gasaway wrote an article titled "The Incredible Vanishing Turnover" that discussed a recent trend noticed in college basketball; turnover rates have slowly declined over the last few years. 

In 2006, the average for BCS conference teams was about 21 percent.  In the four years since then, the numbers drop to roughly 20, 19.5, 19.6, and 19.  At first look, a change from 21 to 19 percent doesn't seem huge but as pointed out in the article, when the vast majority of teams are between 15 and 23 percent, a two percent drop is noticeable when talking about an average of 73 teams. 

What's the importance of this?  Well, we know that a turnover is probably the most detrimental event to a team on the court in the course of a game.  Turnovers come in various ways but they often lead to transition opportunities for the defense, which they should be able to convert into points.  So they not only hurt the offense because you forfeit your chance to score, they often hurt the defense as well.  For now though, we're going to focus on the offense.  Here's what Gasaway says as TO's relate to scoring:

On average each turnover costs you 1.28 points, where "you" is defined as a major-conference team in league play. That might seem like a small number, but remember it the next time you see a starter record what appeared to you to be three easily avoidable turnovers. That’s almost four points for the other team right there.

The 1.28 is the average, Baylor and Kansas were the two leaders last season scoring 1.43 and 1.42 points on each "effective possession".  As we can see, when you already have a very good offense, they hurt even more. 

Now let's check in on the Big 12 numbers this year.

NonTO PPP Conf PPP Difference
Kansas 1.46 1.19 0.27
Baylor 1.4 1.03 0.37
Texas 1.37 1.1 0.27
Kansas St. 1.34 1.05 0.29
Missouri 1.33 1.1 0.23
Colorado 1.32 1.06 0.26
Texas A&M 1.31 1.07 0.24
Nebraska 1.27 1.01 0.26
Texas Tech 1.27 1 0.27
Iowa St. 1.22 0.99 0.23
Oklahoma St. 1.22 0.98 0.24
Oklahoma 1.21 0.98 0.23


Kansas leading the conference shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.  When a team shoots 58% on two pointers and 40% on three pointers through 14 conference games, you know they can score.  Baylor showing up as the 2nd best offense when they take care of the ball surprised me just because of their record this year but shows what a 25% TO rate (12th in the conference) will do to an offense.  Also somewhat surprising is the small range (outside of Baylor) in the difference between actual points per possessions and points per effective possession. That should tell us something about the cost of a turnover but I can't sort it out right now.  Thoughts?

As a team, Kansas has actually been better in conference play this year in regards to turnovers.  They rank 4th in TO rate at 18.5 and average just under 13 a game.  It's somewhat shocking to see the number that low when three guards who play a significant amount of minutes have TO rates of 27 (Taylor), 24.8 (Johnson), and 24.2 (Selby) this season.  Thomas Robinson has also been a little turnover prone in his career, so the team should be thankful that Marcus Morris and Tyrel Reed both rarely turn the ball over.

Conference Games

Poss Pts TO's NonTO PPP
@ISU 81 84 16 1.29
NEB 64 63 15 1.29
ISU 68 89 9 1.51
@CU 65 82 12 1.55
K-State 73 90 14 1.53
@BAY 63 85 14 1.73
@K-State 69 68 18 1.33
@TTU 70 88 6 1.38
CU 72 89 15 1.56
TEX 72 63 12 1.05
Mizzou 71 103 12 1.75
@NEB 69 86 12 1.51
OSU 74 92 13 1.51
  • The Texas game is even ugly (possibly uglier) when using "effective possessions".  1.05 ppp is so far out of the norm that I'm tempted to just ignore it completely.  Texas had something to do with that but their defense is that good.
  • The game in Manhattan highlights what happens when the team doesn't take care of the ball.  The offense wasn't stellar when they did keep it but just seeing 18 turnovers reminds me of how awful it was in Manhattan.