History repeats itself in KU's loss to Northern Iowa
"I’d expect the Jayhawks, a year older and wiser, will understand this better in 2009-10."
I wrote those words last year in my blog, "The Jayhawks (literally) gave the Michigan State game away," following KU's 67-62 loss to Michigan State in the Sweet 16 last year.
Unfortunately for the 2009-10 Jayhawks, history repeated itself a round earlier and with expectations much, much higher.
There are a lot of things you could look at when examining why KU fell to Northern Iowa, 69-67. KU didn't shoot well*. Northern Iowa played great defense. And so on and so on.
* — KU's field-goal percentage and effective field-goal percentage were both higher than UNI's during the game, but that's for another blog.
It seems very few people, though, talk about the turnovers in the game.
As great as UNI's defense was all season, there was one area the team didn't thrive in: forcing turnovers. In fact, the Panthers force turnovers on 20.6 percent of their possessions — NCAA average is 20.4 percent.
So, KU was facing an average team defensively when it came to turnovers. And the Jayhawks had actually taken care of the ball well during the season, averaging turnovers on just 18.8 percent of their possessions (89th nationally).
So what happened when KU was faced with a pressure-packed NCAA Tournament game? The Jayhawks reverted to their 2009 Michigan State form.
KU — which looked, once again, to play extremely tight — turned it over on 24.6 percent of its possessions against UNI, its sixth-highest percentage of the season.
Again, KU was facing an average defensive team when it came to turnovers; one would have predicted the Jayhawks would turn the ball over a shade above their 18.8-percent average for the season.
So, let's do the math. KU had 61 possessions in the game and 15 turnovers. That means, when the Jayhawks didn't turn it over, they scored 67 points in 46 possessions, or 1.46 points per possession in non-turnover possessions.
If KU would have had its season average of 18.8 percent turnovers, it would have turned it over 11.46 times instead of 15.
With 3.54 more possessions at 1.46 points per possession, KU would have scored 5.17 more points. A two-point loss is instead a three-point win, even with the Jayhawks' poor outside shooting.
Here's what should be frustrating for KU fans: The Jayhawks pulled down the offensive rebound on 47.8 percent of their misses — their fourth-highest total of the season.
So missed shots actually weren't even bad for KU, as nearly half the time, the Jayhawks were getting the rebounds anyway — sometimes in a position to score under the basket.
KU wasn't hurt by turnovers only on the offensive end, though.
UNI came in as a solid team offensively, only committing turnovers on 18 percent of its possessions. KU, meanwhile, had forced turnovers on 20 percent of its opponents' possessions.
So what happened? The Panthers turned it over on just 14.8 percent of their possessions — a number much lower than both KU and UNI's season averages.
UNI scored 69 points in 52 non-turnover possessions, meaning it scored 1.33 points per possession in which it put up a shot*.
* — Which brings up another point. KU scored 1.46 points per possession in non-turnover possessions, while UNI had 1.33 points per possession in non-turnover possessions. If neither team turns the ball over in a 61-possession game, KU wins by eight. It's hard to argue that turnovers didn't have a major impact on the result of this game.
If UNI hit its season average in turnovers, it has 10.98 turnovers instead of nine. Take away 2.69 points.
If KU forces its season average in turnovers, UNI has 12.2 turnovers instead of nine. Take away 4.26 points.
The numbers get worse if you break down the play-by-play.
In the Panthers' final 10 possessions against KU's full-court press, they turned it over four times. That means in UNI's first 51 possessions, it turned it over just five times (9.8 percent).
So KU's defense, in the first 37 minutes of the game, was forcing turnovers at less than half the rate it did during the rest of its season.
Here's one more statistic: Going against UNLV two days earlier (the Rebels full-court pressed most of the game), UNI turned it over on 27.4 percent of its possessions. Perhaps it shouldn't have been too much of a surprise when KU's press worked so well in the final minutes.
If the game would have played out just average in regards to turnovers, KU would have gained around five points and UNI would have lost between three and four points. That's an eight- or nine-point swing. KU would have won the game by six or seven.
It was interesting to hear KU coach Bill Self's comments immediately after the game.
"The game came down to one guy, who's a tough, tough kid, making a shot that you would probably never want your guy to shoot, at least I wouldn't," Self said.
It's funny, because the way I look at it, the Jayhawks didn't need to rebound better. They didn't need to shoot any better. They simply needed to get more shots up.
Sure, it was a late-game situation, and UNI probably would have gotten fouled anyway, but more important than anything else was that UNI didn't turn it over on that crucial possession. Ali Farokhmanesh didn't hesitate in putting up a wide-open shot.
Many times, KU's players did hesitate, trying to make the perfect pass or perfect play, which resulted in an unforced turnover.
In the end, a bad shot is better than any turnover.
I’d expect the Jayhawks, a year older and wiser, will understand this better in 2009-10.
I guess there's always 2011.