I’m pleased to report that there are still some things in this world that cannot be reduced to mathematical formulae. Or, perhaps more accurately, there some things so complex and strewn with variables that even the planet’s allegedly best brains aided by artificial intelligence have been unable to descry and display those formulae. How boring would life be if everything could be mapped out in advance! There would be no mystery, no suspense and no uncertainty. There would be no such thing as an attempt, only a foregone conclusion.
One forum that has proved remarkable resistant to scientific inquiry is the NCAA basketball tournament. Everybody from the boxed wine soccer mom whose brackets are determined by uniform colors, to MIT mathematicians, have tried their hand at pegging March Madness, and all, I’m pleased to say, have stepped on the proverbial rake. Grant Hill doesn’t seem to have much more insight than your average Kardashian.
Nevertheless, those of us who earn a crumb if not necessarily a crust in the field of sports-writing, dutifully beaver away at uncovering some portion of the Rosetta stone. In my case, the ambition is less grand still. I confine myself to a single team—the Texas Tech Red Raiders—and attempt to bowl out what could be a key to the team’s success in the tournament next season.
It’s probably hopeless. What chance does a drooling chump with history degrees stand of figuring something important out when pitted against the very Galileos, Eratosthenes, and Heisenberg’s of our age, augmented by computing machines so powerful some believe they could actually conquer the planet? Sweet Fatty Arbuckle. That’s what.
All of this circumlocusive bafflegas is another way of saying yes, I may possibly have discovered one possible determinant of success in the Big Dance. And it’s not some obscure ort requiring the application of string, or even twine theory. Cutting to the chase—finally!—turnovers per game would seem to be an indicator of the possibility of advancing beyond the Sweet Sixteen. If you cough up the orange too often, your chances are nil. At least, that was the case in 2022.
Texas Tech turned the ball over 13.5 times per contest last season. That was no. 259 in the country out of 358, and it put the Red Raiders in the 72nd percentile. Not very good then.
For the record, no team with a higher turnover rate than Tech advanced beyond the Sweet Sixteen in 2022. Iowa State, which turned the ball over 13.8 times per outing, reached the Sweet Sixteen, but went no further. That is the closest thing to a counter-example for the 2022 tournament.
Turning the ball over a great deal—or more than Texas Tech, anyway—was not, however, a bar to reaching the NCAA tournament, and even winning a game. Of the 99 teams that turned the ball over more frequently than the Red Raiders last season, 11 actually participated in March Madness. That’s a fairly high number. Higher than I would have expected.
Those teams were the aforementioned Cyclones, Bryant, Creighton, Norfolk State, New Mexico State, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, TCU, Alabama, LSU, Texas Southern and Memphis. For what it’s worth—probably nothing—the Lone Star State is wildly overrepresented in the Ball-Handling Hall of Shame.
In terms of the absolute number of turnovers last season, the most profligate Red Raiders were, in order, Davion WarrenAdonis Arms, Kevin McCullar, Terrence Shannon, Marcus Santos-SilvaBryson Williams, Kevin Obanor, Clarence Nadolny and Mylik Wilson. However, when measured according to turnovers per minutes played, the chief offenders were Shannon, Santos-Silva and Nadolny. The first two will not be on the roster next season. Nadolny presumably will. Improving ball security will be perhaps his prime objective in the off season. He must learn to make better decisions.
We can be absolutely certain mark adams is painfully aware of the team’s failure to safeguard the ball last season, and that he is taking steps to improve the situation through recruitment. I cannot say what Ethan Duncan, Jaylon Tyson, Robert Jennings and lamar washington will do in this critical aspect of the game. However, D’Maurian Williams was an adequate ball-handler for Gardner-Webb last season, and Richard Isaacs is regarded as one of the top prep point guards of the incoming class. Presumably Isaacs is no turnover machine. He could well be the very opposite. And, if that’s the case, his role could be very large as a freshman in 2023.
Regardless of how the roster fills out between now and July, given the apparent importance of ball security, this is one statistical area I will monitor very closely next season.