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Should Marquette Try To Force More Turnovers?

Is there a connection between pressure to get turnovers and shooting defense?

NCAA Basketball Tournament - First Round - Marquette v South Carolina Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Every sport right now is going through some sort of statistical revolution. They all have their nuances to them, but at its core the main theme has been that players should go for an all-or-nothing approach. In baseball, batters are learning that home runs are more valuable than the strikeout is detrimental. Two point jumpers are fading away from basketball in lieu of more threes because people realized 3 is a bigger number than 2. We’re finding out that the risk of going for these higher reward events really aren’t as great as initially thought.

Following that line of thinking, we might be underrating the value of a forced turnover.

Not more valuable than shot defense, just more valuable relative to the way we perceive it. A turnover is a stolen possession. There’s no hope in redeeming that possession if you’re on offense and, in most cases, you have severely decreased your chances of stopping your opponent on the next possession. There’s oodles of value to it and coaches like Bob Huggins and Brad Underwood have gotten paychecks for focusing their defenses on it.

I think Steve Wojciechowski should make forcing more turnovers a priority next year. Not 100% full court press and clubbing people half to death like West Virginia, but around the 50 to 75 rankings in turnover rate.

Part of this is the addition of Joseph Chartouny. His claims to fame are knowing that Fordham exists and swiping basketballs. His steal rate ranked second in the country last year, and he was ranked #1 in the country the year before that. The turnover rate is going to increase just by nature of him being on the floor instead of Andrew Rowsey even if it’s not a straight 1-to-1 minutes exchange between the two. Wojo should put him in position to get as many steals as he can.

“Yeah, but if everyone is going for steals all the time then the other team is just going to get a layup whenever they miss”

Read that heading in the overly baritone voice you would use to mock your teachers.

Yes, there’s a risk in going for a pass instead of staying in front of the ball handler. No, a failed attempt at a steal doesn’t mean that you’re nailed to a cross for the rest of the possession. Taking yourself completely out of a possession because you missed an attempt at thievery only happens if your name is Jajuan Johnson.

I’m guilty of this as well, but the immediate image of a forced turnover we come up with is an uncontested pass from the top of the key to the wing during which a defender takes a 50/50 shot at intercepting the pass and getting a breakaway dunk. That’s not what happens most of the time. It’s a lot more calculated than that. It involves more pressure on the ball and off ball defenders hovering over their guy to force bad passes and dribbles that remove a lot of the risk.

It’s what any coach is already teaching. I’m just saying it needs to be done more.

So that’s the theory of it all. How has it worked in practice for Marquette during Wojo’s tenure?

To test this, I plotted every game’s defensive TO% by the defensive eFG% to determine if Marquette forcing turnovers has any effect on how opponents shoot. Here’s the graph.

I divided up 4 quadrants based on league average eFG% and TO% so you can more easily visualize where each game falls on the 2 scales. You can see, based on the R^2 coefficient, that there’s a slight negative correlation between the two stats. Let’s poke through the quadrants, though.

Look at the upper left quadrant. Those are the games in which Marquette has forced both turnovers and missed shots at a below average rate. Those games are really bad. That quadrant has 34 games, the most out of all the quadrants, which is 1. depressing, and 2. somewhat indicative. The lack of turnovers didn’t make Villanova post a 70% eFG in the BE Tournament last year, but it certainly didn’t help.

The upper right quadrant (Lots of turnovers, high eFG) has 20 games nested in there. So more often did a bad eFG% game come with a low turnover rate than a high one.

The lower right quadrant is the ideal game where you force a ton of turnovers and still hold the opponent to a low shooting percentage. This has 28 games. That’s second most on the chart. Wojo has shown that he doesn’t have to sacrifice shot defense to make team uncomfortable.

The lower left quadrant contains 14 games, the least amount. It’s a rarity for Marquette to have good shot defense without adding that extra bit of pressure.

This isn’t to say that Marquette has forced tough shots as a direct result of forcing more turnovers. I’m just saying that the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

The Golden Eagles have had success when they emphasize stealing away those extra possessions, but Wojo hasn’t made it a priority on a consistent basis. The turnover rate has gone down every year that he’s been at the helm, going from 21% and #59 in the country in his first year to 18.1% and #197 in 2017-18. It is going to get better with Chartouny guarding the point, but to get the overall defense from “Holding the other team’s hand as they drive to the basket like a father walking his daughter down the aisle” to “Eh, I’ve seen worse”, they need to have a greater emphasis on getting those extra possessions.