Monday, March 16, 2009

Why Purdue Won the Big Ten Tournament

The Boilermakers put on an amazing clinic this weekend, yet their most significant offensive accomplishment was not mentioned as much as it should have. Whether this is because of the fear of an offensive jynx or because making shots happens to be more sexy, I don't know. Something that has hurt Purdue repeatedly in their losses did not rear its ugly head this past weekend. They went on two separate 14 minute streaks without committing this particular offensive atrocity and largely kept them to a minimum over the course of the week. This is something that happened 16 times in the losses to Michigan and Penn State and 12 times in the losses to Michigan State and Ohio State, yet only happened 15 times in the three games this weekend. It should be pretty clear what I am talking about:


When offenses are judged, they are frequently judged on how well they are shooting on a particular night. This, obviously, is only part of the puzzle. When a team doesn't turn the ball over, they will get more opportunities to score and significantly reduce the opponent's chances to get fast break points. The first point was illustrated early in one of this weekend's games (I believe it was the Illinois game) where Purdue had eight more shots than the opponent ten minutes into the game. The second point is especially crucial for Purdue, who relies on one of the best half court defenses in the country.

Now, how impressive is 15 turnovers in three games? To answer this question, I'm going to start by changing the question. Using games as a denominator in sports, like basketball, where the number of chances is dependent on style of play is going to lead to some misleading results. For example, a team that runs up and down the floor and takes the first open shot is going to have more possessions, and therefore more points, and in this discussion more turnovers. Instead, we are going to look at turnovers per possession to reduce the dependency on pace of play. A great reference for tempo-free data is Ken Pomeroy's website.

The Boilermakers had 185 possessions this weekend and only 15 turnovers, good for 8.1%, meaning they got a shot off in an amazing 91.9% of possessions. To show how amazing that is, Purdue is at 17.4% on the year, which is among the best 25 rates in the country. Had they kept it to 8.1% all year, they would have easily beaten Houston's national leading rate of 13.7%.

I know this may sound like a biased thing to say, but if Purdue continues to get shots on 92% of their possessions, they will have a hard time losing in the upcoming tournament.

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