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Bearcats Turnover Margin Has Turned Negative: Can It Be Fixed?

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The 10 of 11 run that spanned the end of the Non Conference Schedule and the start of the Big East season is officially over. It's so over. If you look at the stats from that stretch there are several things that jump off the page. The shooting percentages (52.2 eFG%, 38.5 from 3) were outstanding during that stretch but have fallen off in a big way in the last six games (46.4 eFG%, 30.7 from 3). But the facet of the game that was really the backbone of that run of success was the most basic one of the lot. Turnover margin.

Turnover Margin is not typically a relevant statistic in basketball because even if you turn someone over there are still 70+ feet between the guy who forces the turnover and gains possession and the basket. And a lot can happen in 70 feet. For a while there the Bearcats were great at taking turnovers and converting them into points in a heart beat. Lately? Not so much.

It's not just that the points off turnovers that have dried up. Suddenly the Bearcats aren't that good at forcing turnovers in the first place. Consider these stats.

Margin Margin Per Game UC Turnover % Opponent Turnover %
Post Xavier +83 +7.5 12.9 25.9
Post UConn -9 -1.5 18.6 16.3

The obvious questions are why has this happened and what can be done to fix it?

On the defensive side of the ledger the current droughts aren't as much about what UC is doing as the teams they have played and the style of play they employ. When the Bearcats get a chance to set their defense in the half court this is still a good defensive team. Not a great one. Certainly not on the level of last years. But they do pretty damn good in the half court against set offenses.

Where the issue lies is with teams that either by design or chance work without sets. Marquette plays like that, DePaul plays like that, St. John's plays like that ditto for Rutgers. All those teams do it for different reasons. Marquette and DePaul do that because it is their style, Rtugers and St. John's because they play a ton of freshmen which always results in a "just roll the ball out an play" style. But If you get a chance go back and watch the first half of the Marquette game which encapsulate the point I am trying to make. Marqette ran their secondary break to victory in the first half. They used the secondary break to put Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder in isolated spots, often in transition, and the Bearcats either couldn't find them, or if they did had no one who could match up with either guy. But this isn't about Marquette, the main point I want to make is the more free flowing an offense UC plays the worse the perimeter defense, which wasn't great to start with, becomes.

When the Bearcats have an idea what an opposing offense will try to do to them this defense becomes an exercise in the risk/reward dichotomy. Just look at the first St. John's game compared to the second. In the first the amorphous Johnies attack gave the Bearcats fits because it was impossible to tell what was coming next because the entire offense appeared to be improvised on the spot. And it was. St. John's just put five guys out there to run around. In the second game UC knew what St. John's was going to do so the Bearcats pressed full court, blitzed screens and took away completely the improvised quality that beat them at home. It's not rocket science when you have seen something once before its easier to prepare for the second encounter.

As for the offense it's not that complicated. UC hasn't changed the overall approach at all, nor should they. This is a team that has scored 1.04 PPP in Big East play which is easily the highest of the Mick Cronin era. A simple as it sounds the Bearcats just need to take care of the damn basketball.

That begins and ends with Cashmere Wright. Zombie Cashmere has reared his head again during this 6 game stretch. In the last two games Cash's assist to turnover ratio is 1. That simply doesn't cut it. While Cash needs to play better he also needs to demand the ball and run everything offensively through himself. He has shown this year a capability to get his guys to their spots with the ball time and again. But in recent weeks he has gotten away from that. Cash is not alone with making mistakes with the basketball, but everything starts with him. It's his team


Defensively UC needs to go back to the pressure game. They did it against Marquette but Junior Cadougan is the natural selection against the Bearcats press because he just bulls Cash with his size and strength and completely negates his quickness advantage in doing so. Plus they had DJO and Crowder who are just terrible match ups for any situation but especially in transition. Most of the teams coming up on the docket don't have those kind of match up advantages. The Bearcats need to start blitzing screens and trapping in the corners again. That was the key to the outstanding turnover margin in the first part of the Big East slate.

Offensively the biggest thing that the Bearcats can do to get a hold of the turnover issue is going back to the dribble drive offense. That was a staple in the early days of Big East play but has since been phased out in favor of more isolation plays and outright sets with (somewhat) diminishing returns. I say somewhat because the point production hasn't been the problem. But the Bearcats turn the ball over far more in isolation situations and sets. Relative to the dribble drive stuff. Dion Dixon and Sean Kilpatrick are both good in that look, for different reasons. Dixon is good because he is by far the most athletic Bearcats. Kilpatrick is good because he has the body to absorb contact and either make the shot or get to the line.

The dribble drive offense has two extremely beneficial ancillary effects. 1) it results in more free throws. Free throw rate has been an issue all season long. The Bearcats don't have great percentages from the line (being kind here). But it's hard to argue that getting to the line early and often is a bad thing. 2) The dribble drive tends to free up the weak side of the lane for offensive rebounds. And Yancy Gates is a gifted weak side rebounder. Gates is at his best getting his touches from the offensive glass rather than in conventional back to the basket looks.

Those are my best guesses to the solutions for this new issue afflicting the team. Regardless this turnover issue is the biggest problem afflicting the team at the moment. There are solutions out there that can be applied. But I think getting back to the principals above would go a long ways to restoring the Bearcats to top form.

What's your take on this.