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March 4, 2011, 11:38 AM ET
The incredible vanishing turnover (cont.)

by John Gasaway

I’m jumping the gun on identifying multi-year trends, of course, given that this year isn’t over. Then again unless turnover-happy Baylor plays turnover-happy LSU about 15 times between now and Sunday night, I think a cry of “Vanishing turnovers!” based on major conference play is relatively safe from refutation.

Very well, then. Vanishing turnovers!

Everybody’s imitating Wisconsin all the sudden
Turnover percentages, 2006-11
Major conference games only

       TO%
2006  20.8
2007  20.1
2008  19.6
2009  19.7
2010  19.2
2011  18.9

If you have this year’s book mouth the following words along with me. I chalk up that one-year trend-interruption you see in 2009 to the introduction of a new three-point line that season. Am I right? Who knows, but that’s what I said would happen in advance, so of course I’m going to stick to that story.

The drop in turnovers this season is smaller than anything we’ve seen in any year where there was not a new three-point line introduced. I blame the Big 12. Apparently after last summer’s round of conference realignment the Big 12 was so surprised and happy to find that it still existed that its teams ran out onto the floor and charitably threw the ball into the hands of the opponent. A lot. If you watch college hoops in that part of our nation you’ll see a turnover on more or less one in every five trips (19.7 TO%), which is so 2008. Come on, Big 12, join the Charlie Sheen/Libya present-day. It’s neato.

Only a record-smashing performance from this year’s Big Ten was able to drag the overall major-conference number down below 19. Prior to this season no major conference had recorded a TO percentage below 18.4, but this year Big Ten teams gave the ball away on just 17.3 percent of their trips. (If the entire Big Ten were a team, they’d have the second-best TO percentage in the Big 12.) Obviously this ostentatious performance was spearheaded by Wisconsin, which at the moment has committed a turnover on just 11.2 percent of their Big Ten possessions.

The Badgers’ microscopic TO rate is a major contributing factor behind an offense that’s scoring 1.19 points per trip in conference play. (Fun fact: in a magical realm without turnovers, Ohio State, currently scoring 1.16 points per possession against the Big Ten, would actually have the superior offense.) My working assumption is that coaches notice things like Wisconsin scoring a ton of points through the simple expedient of a ban on turnovers. As my colleague Ken Pomeroy rightly notes, coaches have a professional incentive to notice stuff like that. Thus this trend is likely to continue its long inexorable spiral downward.

Unfiltered-back!
Don’t just mutter ineffectually; email me!

John,

I think you need to get back to Seth Davis with some facts, after he wrote this paragraph in his Hoop Thoughts:

I’m a big fan of Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings, and I check his website often to look up all kinds of cool stats (even though I only understand about half of them). I also have no problem with members of the selection committee consulting those efficiency ratings to inform their decisions. But this notion that the efficiency ratings should replace the RPI as the primary organizational tool is totally ridiculous. The only thing that truly matters on a team’s resume is wins and losses, not a particular statistic, and that’s all the RPI takes into account. I mean, look at Pomeroy’s ratings: Washington is ranked 10th, Maryland is 16th, Utah State is 17th and Belmont is 21st. Is anyone really going to argue that those ratings serve the committee’s purposes better than the RPI?

Set him straight, Gasaway. (In a kind efficiency-based way, of course!)

Luke S.

Like Seth, I too expect that in the near future selection committee members will avail themselves of the kind of information first unearthed by Dean Smith more than 50 years ago. Not to the exclusion of other information and certainly not by rule, but simply because some committee members will find it useful to do so.

It would be nice if wins correlated more strongly with future performance, but we know from experience that they do not. We can shout at this gap all we want, but when we’re done it will still be part of our sport’s original equipment. The question is what to do about it. Right now the committee effectively looks past it. In the future I anticipate they’ll acknowledge the gap without becoming mastered by it. That strikes me as about right.

But I would never paint a sign championing Dean Smith’s handiwork as the new primary organizational tool, simply because I’m not sure the committee needs a primary organizational tool. Discussion among curious and alert fans of the game armed with good information should suffice.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here. Book: now available on Amazon.

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