Editors Note: We asked for it in the Open Thread last night. TrackTownTom delivers the goods in this Fanpost. Bumped to front page - Dominic
A series of events coincided nicely for me on Nov. 5. My father, an avid basketball fan (and Gonzaga alum) was visiting from out of town and I had been gifted free tickets from the colleague of a friend for the Men's Basketball game versus Southwest Oklahoma State University that night. Dad was duly impressed with The Matt, comparing it to an NBA arena, and the production values during pregame and the intros left me recalling my sports marketing internship as an undergrad (not at U of O) where we were lucky if we could even get the mascot inflated properly.
What happened after tipoff was not nearly as impressive, however. One observer (me) described it thusly:
Turnovers are the second most important factor in determining a basketball team's success, behind only shooting performance, but ahead of factors often anecdotally thought to be more important such as rebounding or free throw percentage. Thoughts on the weighting of each of these factors differ, but here is one statistician's approximation. So basically the only way to overstate the importance of turnovers is to say they're more important than how well you shoot the ball.
Malcolm Gladwell touched on this in his New Yorker article, "How David Beats Goliath." In the exploration of how disadvantaged groups can overcome odds to prevail through the use of unconventional strategies, Gladwell's Exhibit A is the full-court press defense, which, rather than ceding half the court, forces the offensive team to protect the ball (prevent a turnover) the entire length of the floor. At one point, Gladwell quotes current Louisville head coach Rick Pitino about a game where, then coaching Kentucky, he successfully employed the full-court press against LSU.
“We had eighty-six points at halftime,” Pitino went on—eighty-six points being, of course, what college basketball teams typically score in an entire game. “And I think we’d forced twenty-three turnovers at halftime,” twenty-three turnovers being what college basketball teams might force in two games. “I love watching this,” Pitino said.
Of course if you're a Duck fan, you know that 23 turnovers is, in fact, not a two-game total. The Ducks average 15 per game. As Adam Jude of The Oregonian pointed out, at the Ducks' lowest point:
(During three games the) Ducks (had) more turnovers (65) than field goals made (64) and more than twice as many assists (30)
In the same article, Altman is quoted as saying:
"It's gotten completely out of control."
In fact, if you read the entirety of the article, it may seem like Altman is somewhat at a loss for what to do to address the problem. Get Artis back? No doubt, having your best point guard available always helps the assist to turnover ratio, but Artis (not surprisingly for a Freshman) is actually second in turnovers per game on the team, behind only Singler.
In fact, of the three years under Altman's leadership, the Ducks have ranked 273rd, 180th, and 308th nationally in ability to retain possession. Given what we know about the importance of the stat, it's not hard to predict success. In his first year, the team shot (on a macro level) poorly from the field (.425, ranked nationally 242nd) and as such finished 21-18. The next year, turnovers weren't as egregious and the team shot significantly better (.469, ranked 36th nationally) and the results reflected the improvements with a 24-10 record. This year has been the worst by national rank for turnovers, but the Ducks have managed to offset that with decent shooting (.447, 97th) and strong defensive rebounding (806, 55th). It turns out my early-season concerns about their inability to block out were unfounded, and also that Kazemi is teh awesome.
So we know that turnovers are determinative to success, both in basketball in general and with the Ducks in particular. What can be done to prevent them?
Turnovers can be the product of two factors: lack of fundamentals or defensive pressure or, to borrow a tennis term, unforced and forced errors. One might suspect that players reaching the Division I level could be counted upon to play fundamentally sound basketball, but the high rate of churn with upperclassmen leaving for the NBA (or the high number of transfers that the Ducks have experienced), can mean relying upon younger, less savvy players (such as Artis and Dotson). So fundamentals need to be instilled and reinforced, rather than taken for granted.
Tactically, to be prepared for pressure game situations, defensive intensity in practice needs to closely mimic that of games, and the second unit needs to be effective at "cloning" the schemes commonly used by opposing schools. Altman-coached teams actually have an advantage here because, as Matt often points out on the podcasts, Altman uses a lot of different defensive looks and can switch them up on the fly. Presumably, this would mean the second unit could easily adapt when acting as a "scout team." However, the Ducks have conceded 210 steals to their opponents this year, leaving them ranked 191st nationally.
Can Altman produce non-turnover prone teams? Yes. His last three years at Creighton his teams ranked 94th, 133rd, and 196th. So was I misguided in drunkenly calling for his ouster last night, and instead was maybe just giving (slurred) voice to my visceral hate of all things sloppy and turnover-related? Probably. But whatever Altman did to progress his team to better efficiency the last three years at Creighton, he needs to employ in Eugene. Until that time, the Ducks' chances at success will be greatly hindered.