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The Impact Of Offensive Fouls On Marquette Basketball & The Turnover Problem

Don't you just hate it when someone puts an idea in your head?

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, we published the Four Factors report from Saturday's game against #6 Xavier.  I don't know if you've heard, but Marquette committed 20 turnovers in that game before losing by eight points.  You can see how we could look at MU turning the ball over on 27% of their possessions in the game and say, "That.  That right there.  That's why they lost the game."

Not all turnovers are equal, though.  Yeah, they all go in the box score under the column marked "TO," but that's about where the similarity ends.  You've got your errant passes that go out of bounds.  You've got your garden variety steal, where the defender straight up plucks it from you.  You've even got your offensive foul, which, for box score purposes, counts as a turnover.  After all, it causes the defense to gain possession of the ball without a shot going up, so you have to explain the alteration to the game somehow, right?

It was that turnover inequality that sent our friends over at Paint Touches to root around a little bit more in the box score.  That's when they realized this tidbit that had slipped past our Four Factors breakdown:

That's, uh, really bad.  Had it been a game where, say, J.P. Macura had gotten his YOINK on, and had 7 steals, at least you can say, "well, that's a dude making a play.  Should MU be better?  Yeah, but at least they didn't just throw it out of bounds."  Nope.  80% of Marquette's turnovers against Xavier were of the slightly stupider varieties of turnovers.  Not the defense making a play, just a straight up miscue by the Golden Eagles.

So, that led to the following suggestion from PT: With Marquette nosediving into the bottom 50 in the country in the percentage of offensive possessions that end in a turnover, how many of those turnovers are a result of an offensive foul?  Arguably, the offensive foul is the most avoidable turnover, as it largely just comes down to "don't crash into a defender" and "don't move when you're setting a screen."  It's also largely just on the fouler.  Steals are the defense making a play, and sailing a pass out of bounds can be rooted in miscommunication between two players.  Offensive fouls are just the guy getting the whistle by doing something wrong, and, as a result, you could argue that it's the most immature kind of turnover.  To put it another way, it seems possible that a young team like Marquette might commit lots of offensive fouls because they're just not caught up to the speed or strength of the college game.

That brings us to now, where all 24 box scores from this season have been scoured for offensive fouls.  Here's the deal: As a team this season, Marquette has committed 369 turnovers.  69 of those, or just under 19% of them are a result of offensive fouls.  If you just round off and word it more simply: nearly one in five of Marquette's turnovers are offensive fouls.  If you wipe out the offensive fouls completely, just pretending those possessions never happened (impossible, sure, but stick with me here, I'm trying to illustrate a point), Marquette goes from a TO Rate of 21.0% and ranked #316 in the country to 17.7%, ranking them somewhere in the high 120s/low 130s, according to KenPom.  If we imagine that the offensive fouls never happened and instead, Marquette ended up taking a shot that they missed, then the turnover rate drops all the way down to just barely over 17%, and if you're scoring along at home, that would make Marquette a top 100 team in that department.

Because I know you're wondering right now: Marquette committed a season high six offensive fouls against Xavier on Saturday.  With 69 on the season, MU is committing an average of 2.9 offensive fouls per game.  They've committed at least four on 11 occasions, and have had at least five offensive fouls in four different games.  All four of those games were against a Big East opponent.

Offensive fouls are killing this team's offensive efficiency.  Straight up murdering it in its sleep, suffocating possessions before they have a chance to live to their best possible potential: a made field goal.

Who are the biggest offenders?  Well, let's look, shall we?

Player Off. Fouls % of Team OffFouls % of PF % of TO
Henry Ellenson 16 23.2 27.6 26.2
Luke Fischer 12 17.4 18.5 30
Haanif Cheatham 9 13 16.7 12.7
Sandy Cohen 7 10.1 10.1 22.6
Traci Carter 6 8.7 8.8 10.7
Matt Heldt 6 8.7 37.5 75
Duane Wilson 5 7.2 9.4 9.3
Jajuan Johnson 4 5.8 12.9 13.3
Wally Ellenson 3 4.3 10.3 60
Sacar Anim 1 1.4 11.1 20

In addition to pointing out who has the most offensive fouls and the percentage of the team's offensive fouls that they account for, I also threw in a column showing you how many of their own personal fouls are occupied by those offensive fouls, and the same thing for their personal turnover total.

I don't know if there's really any kind of official trends or statistical analysis to be pulled out of this, but these are the things that jumped out at me from these numbers:

  • It's not exactly a secret that Henry Ellenson isn't the most efficient player on the face of the planet, but accounting for 20+% of the team's offensive fouls is really not helping his whole deal.  Also not helping: spending more than 25% of his fouls and turnovers on offensive fouls.
  • How much of this is just Ellenson struggling with physicality against players that are more similar to him in size?  Did you watch him play for Rice Lake?  Let's put it this way: There wasn't a lot of dudes that had any chance of defending a player of Henry Ellenson's size and agility in the north woods of Wisconsin.  Look at Matt Heldt's line in that table.  He only has six offensive fouls on the season, but that's 38% of his total fouls (a lot) and 75% of his turnovers (a whole hell of a lot).  Heldt's kind of in the same circumstance as Ellenson as far as the size goes, and he seems to be struggling with the offensive end of things just as much, if not more.  In Neenah's games, was it easier for Heldt to make a quick move with his long legs and arms and suddenly be just way past some poor 6'5" sap who got stuck defending Heldt because he was the tallest guy at his school?  Absolutely.  Same thing for Ellenson.  But now they've got the James Farrs of the world defending them, and it's a wholly different issue when they make that quick move and they slam into the dude and it's a charge.
  • Marquette's three post players - Henry Ellenson, Luke Fischer, and Matt Heldt - are responsible for 34 of MU's offensive fouls, which is essentially half of them.  I just pulled these stats from box scores, not from any kind of video review, so I don't know how many of these fouls are charges and how many are illegal screens.  But, from seeing half the offensive fouls come from the three tallest players on the team, I'm left with a possible conclusion: Given that Wojo was responsible for coaching the post players at Duke, he and his staff are struggling to coach the post players given the new emphasis on cleaning up physicality on both sides of post play this season.
  • Marquette's two worst players in terms of individual turnover rate are Traci Carter (30.5%) and Haanif Cheatham (27.8%).  For the most part, their problems are not offensive fouls.  11% and 13% respectively are not that significant for guys who are turning it over as much as those two dudes are relative to their time on the court.  Carter is also getting whistled for five fouls per 40 minutes, which is a ton, but only 9% of his fouls are of the offensive variety, which isn't that significant either.
  • Of the guys on the team who are playing more than 10% of MU's minutes, Luke Fischer has the second lowest turnover rate.  His 16.1% is only surpassed by Wally Ellenson's 10.7%.  But 30% of Fischer's turnovers are offensive fouls.  He's remarkably surehanded with the ball, probably even more so for a guy his size, and he'd be AMAZING if he wasn't getting hooked for an offensive foul every other game on average.
Did I miss anything interesting there?  What jumps out at you?