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A Deep Dive Into Marquette’s Turnover Problem

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Prompted by a good question from the podcast, I’m taking a deep dive into a topic that has piqued my interest.

NCAA Basketball: Marquette at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Hi y’all,

I’m Troy McClure Sam Newberry. You may remember me from such posts as “Nihilistic Marquette Fan on Twitter” and “The Anonymous Eagle Podcast.

Alright that’s enough of that bit. I don’t write many articles anymore, but I do contribute regularly to the Anonymous Eagle podcast alongside Pat Leary and Ben Snider. On our last episode, Friend Of The Pod/Site Charlie Weber asked a couple questions, one of which really caught my attention.

He didn’t ask “What is causing our turnovers?” He asked “What is the main issue with our turnovers?” I answered in the moment with a long, rambling take about how it minimizes Marquette’s strengths on both sides of the ball. Go listen to that if you’re interested (shameless plug). That sparked an interest in trying to figure out exactly what the turnovers were doing to this Marquette team. I can’t speculate what would happen if turnovers would be reduced, but I can at least analyze what the turnovers are doing at their present rate.

Stats nerds, let’s get weird.

The basics: Marquette is turning the ball over 21.4% of the time according to KenPom, good for 275th in the country. That is a big ol’ yikes. Marquette basically wastes 1 out of every 5 possessions, a little more than that, actually. It doesn’t help that Marquette is sub-240 according to KenPom in getting the ball stolen from them (10% of possessions end in a steal, which is bad) AND turning it over in other ways (11.4%, for those doing mental math at home). No matter what, those are not good.

First point: Marquette turning the ball over is minimizing an otherwise very good offense. Let’s not talk about the 2 point field goal percentage, it’s ugly. However, as a team, Marquette is shooting a good, not great 50.9% effective field goal percentage, which ranks #121 in the country at the moment. They’re connecting on 41.4% of their three-point attempts, which is the 8th best three point percentage in the country. Let me say it again: EIGHTH. Additionally, Marquette has a free throw rate (the number of foul shots attempts relative to the number of field goals attempted) at a staggering 42.3%, a top 20 team in the country. Plus, the team is shooting 71.8% from the line, which is totally fine.

Basically, Marquette is shooting really well from deep, getting a TON of free throws, and more often than not converting them. And tossing away 1 in 5 possessions that could end in a three or free throws is really hindering an offense that even with the turnovers is still top 40 in the country per KenPom. Marquette is an efficient team. Not allowing your efficient team to get off a shot or get to the line is minimizing the offensive potential of this team, especially with an elite shot maker in Markus Howard.

So the turnovers minimize Marquette’s strengths on offense, in addition to disrupting flow on the offensive end.

But what about the defense?

Well, it’s not what you want.

Thanks to Hoop Math, I can show you exactly why it’s not what you want.

Screen shot from Hoop Math’s Marquette page
http://hoop-math.com/Marquette2020.php

So. 22.5% of opponent’s field goal attempts are happening in transition. Thankfully, Marquette opponents are very bad at pull up jumpers in transition (PUJIT), shooting 23% from 2 and 18.4% from 3. However, at the rim, opponents are shooting 62.5% in transition, and almost half of opposing transition shots are coming at the rim.

And here’s the defensive stats for transition.

Screen shot from Hoop Math’s Marquette page
http://hoop-math.com/Marquette2020.php

Obviously, this does not consider 11.4% of Marquette’s turnovers, as those are the non-steal turnovers. That’s traveling calls, bad passes out of bounds, offensive fouls, and other turnovers that result in the opponent being forced to inbound the ball. Shouts to Hoop Math for dividing out things so we don’t have to worry about the rebound and scoring transition numbers fouling up the data.

Marquette allows steals on 10% of their possessions. 3% of opposing shot attempts come within 10 seconds of Marquette having the ball stolen. Opponents are shooting a 71.4% effective field goal percentage when they get a shot up within 10 seconds of a steal. 64.3% of those shots are at the rim — layups and dunks, essentially — and MU’s opponents are hitting 77.8% of those attempts.

WHOMP.

I know it’s only 3% of opponent shot attempts. I know. But in total, almost 6% of opponent shot attempts occur after a steal. Somehow, even if Marquette recovers to defend the steal, opponents are shooting even better (79.2% eFG)! And they are shooting 100% at the rim on possessions where a shot attempt occurs 11 or more seconds after a steal!

These are weird numbers and I’m going to not address them right now because I’m not sure what to say about it.

Other notes: by my count, within 10 seconds of allowing the ball to be stolen, Marquette has fouled 9 times this year, many of which have lead to free throw attempts and a wildly unnecessary growing foul count for players. Sure, 9 instances in 9 games isn’t all that high, but it was certainly interesting to see (and also tedious having to dive through play by plays, please pray for me).

Okay Sam, you’ve thrown a lot of numbers at us. What does it all mean and what does it have to do with minimizing the team’s strengths on defense? THE NUMBERS MASON, WHAT DO THEY MEAN?

Well, it doesn’t take a genius (and trust me, I’m not one, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night) to figure out that turnovers are bad. It also doesn’t help that Marquette is playing VERY fast, which leads to a lot of possessions, which leads to a lot of turnovers. Marquette is averaging almost 75 possessions a game. With 10% of possessions ending in steals, give or take, that’s 7.5 steals a game. Opponents are converting those possessions into points waaaaaaay more often than not. Seven steals turns into roughly four attempts at the rim, which turns into three made buckets. Six points a game, just freely handed over to the opposition.

And Marquette is still a great defensive team. They’re a top 15 eFG% defense, coming in at 42.2% per KenPom, and teams shoot just 41.9% on two-pointers against them, which ranks #22 in the country. Now imagine taking away all of those easy transition shots at the rim off of seven or eight steals. Think about how good the eFG% would be! Even if you take away five turnovers a game, that leads to less runouts, less shots at the rim in transition, and a much scarier look in Marquette’s half-court defense. By allowing so many points off of live-ball turnovers, MU is actively playing away from its strength — see also: Theo John, noted rim protector — as a half-court defending team.

So what do the turnovers really do, besides interrupt flow, waste offensive chances, and lead to easy points in transition for opposing teams? Well, they lead to a minimization of what this team truly thrives on: an efficient half-court offense and a scary-good half-court defense. For Marquette to reach peak potential this season, it needs to play to its strengths. And the turnovers don’t allow for that.

I’m not sure Marquette WILL fix it. Turnovers were a problem for all of last season, and they’ve actually gotten worse in the early going of this season. Generally speaking, “hanging onto the ball on offense” has not been a featured point of Steve Wojciechowski’s teams, with just two years in the top 100 of offensive turnover rate on KenPom out of his first five seasons. But if they can address it, it bodes well for this team’s postseason hopes.