I was perusing KU's Game Plan page this week and something jumped out at me: the Hawks' sudden drop in turnovers forced. In non-conference games, opponents averaged turnovers on about 28% of their possessions (this isn't exact, but it's a good enough estimate). The lowest turnover rate of any opponent had been Boston College at 21.8%. But as soon as Big 12 play started, the turnovers stopped. @Nebraska: 18.7% Oklahoma: 16.8% @Missouri: 12.8% Iowa State: 15.3% Nebraska: 21.6%
Now, some of the drop is simply because these teams are surprisingly good at not turning the ball over (the worst among them is Nebraska, which ranks 101st in T0%). But these rates are even below their season averages; not a good sign for a defense that has previously been ranked near the top in forcing opponents to cough it up, right?
Well, not so fast. Along with the drop in turnovers, there was a simultaneous drop in opponents' offensive rebounding percentage (OR%) and effective field goal percentage (eFG%). Their previous season averages had been approximately 31% and 45%, respectively:
TEAM: OR%, eFG% @Nebraska: 21.1%, 47.0% Oklahoma: 29.6%, 35.9% @Missouri: 25.2%, 41.5% Iowa State: 21.1%, 36.1% Nebraska: 25.0%, 32.5%
So while the turnovers decreased, they've done a better job of crashing the defensive boards, and they've made it even tougher for opponents to get open looks. Could this be the result of a change in defensive strategy - gambling for turnovers less and playing "straight up;" putting more priority on staying between their man and the basket, and keeping a hand in their face? I didn't get to watch any of these games closely, so maybe those of you that did can answer that question.
Whatever the reason, I wanted to know how often other teams show similar changes, and what it meant for those teams going forward. Unfortunately, Pomeroy's site only has Game Plan data for 2007 and 2008, so I could only use last year as a guide. I searched the data to find all major conference teams with a stretch of 5 or more games in which their TO% dropped 10+ points from its previous level. I found 5 teams: Arizona State, Duke, Florida, Georgia, and West Virginia. But the Mountaineers were the only team whose streak wasn't accompanied by a simultaneous general worsening of their defensive efficiency (which hasn't happened in KU's case).
So what happened to WVU after the streak? Their next game was on the road against a top-20 (according to Pomeroy) conference opponent with a talented freshman forward (Notre Dame and Luc Harangody). Their turnover and rebound rates dropped even more, their defense softened a little, and they lost a close game, 61-58. Going forward, their turnover rate never recovered to its previous level, but their opponents' offensive rebounding DID, not a good combination.
By no means does this imply the same thing will happen to KU, but it is something to look out for tonight. K-State will have success on the offensive boards, as they have all year. If they also manage to hold onto the ball as well as other conference opponents have, tonight's game may be closer to a toss-up than Pomeroy's 76-68 prediction would indicate.