Wasted possessions: the case against Arizona

There are few things on a basketball court more frustrating than turnovers. Passes thrown out of bounds. Travels. Charges. Steals. They all have coaches pulling their hair out (just look at Leonard Hamilton).

But not all turnovers are created equally. And I'm not talking about live-ball vs dead-ball turnovers, though the former often lead to quick points for the opponents. I'm talking about the difference in offenses.

This is the concept of effective possessions. An effective possession is one which does not involve a turnover – in other words, the team had an opportunity to score. And while researching the impact of turnovers on Florida State's offense, I came across a startling number. And it wasn't from FSU. It was from Arizona.

First, I looked at how many possessions FSU has had (554) and subtracted the ones which ended with a turnover (136). They've scored 573 points on the season, which means when they don't turn the ball over they score 1.37 points per possession. So every time a Seminole kicks it out of bounds you can think to yourself (or say out loud, like I do) "there goes 1.37 points."

Next, I compared that to every Florida State offense under Coach Hamilton and found that this is their 2nd highest rate during his tenure (the highest being 1.39 during Al Thornton's senior season). Then I wanted to see how that fit with other teams with turnover issues. So I looked at all the major conference schools which rank among the bottom 100 teams nationally in turnover%. There are nine schools.

At the bottom of the list is Mississippi State who score 1.17 points per effective possession (which means there are 13 schools nationally who average more per possession even with their turnovers factored in). So when the Bulldogs turn it over, it's not as big of a deal as it is when FSU turns it over. Because the MSU offense is terrible, with or without turnovers.

But at the top of the list there was a surprise – the Arizona Wildcats. Arizona has the 13th best offense in the nation, despite being 251st in turnover%. In Sean Miller's previous eight seasons his teams ranked among the top 100 in ball security five times, and his teams have never kicked it around as much as his current team. Arizona scores 1.54 per effective possession, which is the highest nationally. The No. 2 team (Indiana) averages 1.51, and they're the only two teams in the nation which score at least one and a half points per possession when they take care of the ball.

So if you're an Arizona fan, you can take this one of two ways. The optimist will dream about how good their offense is going to be once they get the turnover issue settled down. The pessimist will think about how frustrating it will be in March to watch this team get knocked out of the tournament due to self inflicted wounds.