Avoiding Turnovers

When a team loses possession of the ball prior to shooting or scoring, it’s a turnover.

A team that rarely turns over the ball has more possessions and chances to score. The more chances you have to score, the better opportunity you have to win.

What percent of a team’s possessions result in a turnover?

The answer is a team’s turnover percentage.

TO% = TO / Possessions

For example, in the 2018 NCAA Tournament game between Texas Tech and Gonzaga, the Zags turned it over 16 times in 71 possessions.

Gonzaga’s turnover percentage was 22.5%.

TO% = 16 / 71 = .225 * 100

This means only about 77.5% out of every Gonzaga possession ended without a turnover.

Pace Independent

Turnover percentage is pace-independent.

This means how fast or how slow a team plays has no bearing on its turnover percentage.

Why is this important?

A team’s philosophy has a lot to do with how many possessions per game it averages.

For example, Virginia averaged around 59 possessions per game in the 2018-2019 season.

North Carolina averaged almost 15 more a game (74 possessions per game).

If a team averages more possessions per game, there are more opportunities to turnover the ball. Pace of play doesn’t help or hurt a team’s turnover percentage.

Turnover percentage doesn’t factor in pace of play.

Forcing Turnovers

On the other side of the ball, an opponent’s ability to force turnovers can play into a team’s turnover percentage or how it avoids turnovers.

If a team has a bad turnover night, remember, it’s likely equal parts bad offense and good defense by the opponent.

KenPom estimates turnovers are influenced by the defense less than 51% of the time.

This means if a team is good at forcing turnovers, the team is probably helped by its opponent’s poor offense too.