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Kentucky basketball: Talking Turnovers and Rebounding


Turnovers have been all the buzz in the Big Blue Nation lately.  Naturally, people are wondering just how bad the turnovers are hurting us.  We know they are, but how can we quantify that damage?

A few weeks back, I did a little exercise looking at the two types of giveaways and how all miscues are not created equally by examining our five highest turnover games.  So lets take some of the lessons learned from that exercise and apply it to the South Carolina game.

South Carolina wound up taking 28 more shots than UK did.  Let's see what that means, applying the numbers we derived from the earlier analysis:

  • Kentucky committed nine direct ("live") turnovers and USC five for a difference of 4.  These types of turnovers are worth 1.28 points apiece based on our previous numbers (which we admit may not quite be accurate, but which should be close enough), for a total of 5.12 points.
  • UK committed 12 dead-ball turnovers and USC committed 10 for a difference of 2.  These turnovers are worth 0.7 points each, for a total of 1.4 points.

So far, UK has surrendered an additional 6.52 points to USC, but that isn't the end of the story.  There is also the opportunity cost from turnovers, and for this, all turnovers are considered the same.  Since UK had a net 6 turnovers more than USC, the opportunity cost to UK using true shooting percentage and considering the excess turnovers as negative for UK and positive for USC:

-6 *.71 = -4.25

Adding it all up, UK surrendered an additional 10.75 (11) points to South Carolina by the turnover margin.  Note that we are not assuming zero turnovers here, that goal is not achievable in the real world.  What we are looking at is the margin of difference between the two teams.

Since South Carolina took 28 more shots than UK did, the question remains, "Where did they come from?"  Obviously, six of them could be attributed to turnovers, but the other 22 had to come from somewhere else.  Where?  Offensive rebounds, for one.  South Carolina had nine more offensive rebounds, which makes it look like UK did a really bad job on the defensive glass.  But in reality, both Kentucky and USC got very near their season averages on the offensive glass (UK averages 35%, and we got 36%).  What is disappointing about that performance is that UK has such a significant size advantage that we could have reasonably expected them to hold the Gamecocks to well below their season average on the offensive glass, but that didn't happen.

So as much griping as we have seen about offensive rebounding, the fact of the matter is, OR% in the USC game was very close, 38-36%.  Without going into much additional analysis, we can say that the ORs did not hurt us nearly as much as the excess turnovers, even though they probably accounted for a couple of points above the South Carolna season average.

In case you're wondering where the additional 13 shots came from, remember that UK had 14 more free throw attempts than USC.  Those don't count as shots, and after the free throws are over, possession changes.  That's a net positive for UK, since we shot 83% from the line as a team.  So you can forget about all the other Gamecock attempts, they are due to a possession change after the free throw, with one caveat -- when a team misses the front end of a one-and-one or both shots in a two-shot foul, it is effectively a turnover.  Liggins missed one front-end, and Stevenson missed two big ones at the end of the game.  You could consider those dead-ball turnovers that cost us an additional 1.4 points, and the opportunity cost of 3 ponts for a total of 4.4 more, which would bring the grand total to almost 16 points.

In the final analysis, UK's turnover margin really hurt us most in the USC game.  Kentucky is one of the best shooting teams in the nation, but when we turn the ball over more than a couple of times more per game than our opponents, we are sometimes going to struggle, particularly when those turnovers are "live" and in close games.  With respect to the USC game, had we merely managed one less "live" turnover or two less dead-ball turnovers, we likely would have won the game.  Another offensive rebound or a couple of defensive rebounds, or even Stevenson or Liggins' free throws, would likely have won it for us as well.