If there's one thing all coaches harp on, it's valuing possessions. The average college game is 66.1 possessions. The average college team turns it over on 20.2% of those possessions (13.4 per game). That leaves less than 53 possessions, on average, in which to score. Which is why turnovers often decide the game.
But some teams are able to thrive despite their proclivity to give away possessions. These teams don't value the ball. A trip up the floor is as much adventure as it is execution. And yet they still win. But how good could they be?
In the decade in which tempo free data is available, exactly zero teams which were in the bottom 55% national in turnovers have won a National Title. The 2005 Tar Heels, which finished 149th out of 330 in turnover percentage, are the current pace setters – and they finished slightly better than the NCAA average. Of the 40 teams which made the Final Four in that same period, only six (15%) turned the ball over more than the average college team.
In that vein, here are three teams which could be elite in 2012-13, if they do a better job taking care of the ball.
3. Louisville. On paper, the Cardinals should be the favorite to take home the National Title. They had the best defense in the nation last year, and advanced to the Final Four. The problem was that you knew their offense – or lack thereof – was going to catch up to them. They couldn't make threes, they were only average in the other ways to score, and most importantly they gave the ball away. A lot. They were No. 211 in turnovers.
They somehow managed to win the Big East Tournament while only scoring 0.97 points per possession. That's remarkable. And then in the NCAA Tournament it was like watching a car chase which you knew was going to end poorly. They edged Davidson and New Mexico with their offensive "explosion" of 1.02 points per possession. Then their defense throttled Michigan State. In the Elite-8 they had their best offensive game of the year versus Florida, which gave a bit of hope heading into the Final Four. But then Kentucky held them to 0.91 per possession, and it was over.
Louisville could very well win it all this year, but first they need to find balance, and it starts by not kicking the ball away.
2. Murray State. Last year the Racers (No. 217 in turnovers) led Marquette 46-45, and had the ball with 6:09 to go in the Round of 32. If they could hold on, it would be the first Sweet-16 appearance in the program's history.
Marquette then scored on three straight possessions to take a 51-48 lead with a bit over four minutes to play. Murray State's ball.
Marquette hit a three.
Then Murray State forced a turnover of their own and had a chance to cut it back to a two possession game.
Finally, despite themselves, they had a chance with :22 seconds left to cut it back to a three-point game.
Their season-long nemesis had cropped up at exactly the wrong time, and the Racers were sent home.
Now they return Isaiah Canaan – arguably the best guard in the country – and a talented supporting cast. Is this another 31-2 team? Probably not, but this is a team which defends (No. 25 nationally), and if they could add a few effective possessions, then who knows. Anything is possible.
1. Florida State. The Noles seem to have cornered the market on winning despite being careless with the ball. In the past four seasons only four teams have received at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament while also ranking worse than 290th in turnovers. The four teams? Georgia Tech, Florida State, Florida State and Florida State. They would have made it four of five last year, but they received an automatic bid for winning the ACC.
The bad news for FSU is that they lost six seniors off of last year's team (which ranked 323rd in turnovers). The good news is that those six seniors were ranked No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 in turnover %.
All-American candidate Michael Snaer returns for his senior season, and after a turnover % which was bloated his first two seasons by travels and offensive fouls he was able to cut that rate over 40% as a junior. And the primary ball handling duties will now go to Ian Miller, who was the 11th best player in the conference at taking care of the ball.
If the Noles have an offense, then look out. This is a team that can play with anyone.