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ACC Butterfingers

Holding on to the ball sounds easy but not for everyone

NCAA Basketball Tournament - East Regional - Washington DC
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 31: RJ Barrett #5 of the Duke Blue Devils attempts a shot against Aaron Henry #11 and Xavier Tillman #23 of the Michigan State Spartans during the second half in the East Regional game of the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Capital One Arena on March 31, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Turnovers are like fouls and missed free throws – with rare exception most everyone prefers to avoid them. (One notable divergence: Tre Jones purposely missing a foul shot, leading to a victorious followup basket at Chapel Hill last season.)

Coaches routinely preach cutting down turnovers, since each lost possession makes victory more elusive. And players like Pitt’s Xavier Johnson know their pro aspirations could be closer to realization if they can control the ball.

There can be many mitigating factors where turnovers are concerned.

For one thing, the faster the tempo, the more possessions are created. The more possessions, the greater the possibility of committing turnovers in forcing or maintaining the pace. (It’s interesting to note that North Carolina, where coach Roy Williams loves to push the ball, didn’t have anyone among the decade’s top turnover producers in any single season.)

Offensive creators, particularly those who attack via dribble, also tend to commit inordinate numbers of turnovers. These high-risk, high-reward players usually offset lost possessions with the volume of points they produce.

The majority of players (10 of 19) with the highest TO totals in the past decade led their teams in scoring.

Being a freshman, exposed for the first time to the intensity and speed of play and level of talent at the college level, often has an adverse effect on ballhandling efficiency. About a third of the top turnover producers since 2011 were freshmen, notably recent yearlings Johnson and Duke’s RJ Barrett.

The gifted Johnson somewhat reduced his stunning turnover rate as a sophomore last season – though over a reduced number of games — as he handled the ball and carried less of the scoring burden alongside guards Justin Champagnie and Trey McGowens.

The trio played around 33 minutes per game and were Pitt’s only double-figure scorers. All three shot free throws relatively well (over 72 percent) but failed to hit at a breakeven rate (.333) on 3-pointers.

Johnson and McGowens, since transferred to Nebraska, were among the ACC’s top 10 in steals and assists. Both also had more assists than turnovers. Johnson’s 111 ballhandling errors still led the ACC; he’s now had two of the eight worst season turnover totals in the past decade, including the absolute worst in 2019.

“I’ve got more stuff to work on than I thought I did,” Johnson told Craig Meyer of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

No argument here.

Most Turnovers in Season, Last Decade
(Asterisk Indicates Team's Leading Scorer)
TO Player, School Asts Year A:TO Minutes
Per TO
132 Xavier Johnson, UP, fr.* 149 2019 1.13 7.95
126 Frank Howard, SU, jr 175 2018 1.39 11.3
123 RJ Barrett, D, fr* 164 2019 1.33 10.9
118 Lorenzo Brown, NS, so 234 2012 1.98 10.75
118 Nolan Smith, D, sr* 189 2011 1.60 10.67
114 Lorenzo Brown, NS, jr 239 2013 2.1 9.9
112 Ky Bowman, BC, so 165 2018 1.47 11.9
111 Xavier Johnson, UP, so 163 2020 1.47 9.9
108 Xavier Rathan-Mayes, FS, fr* 115 2015 1.06 10.28
108 Dez Wells, M, so* 113 2013 1.05 10.06
107 Dennis Smith, NS, fr* 197 2017 1.84 10.41
107 Eli Carter, BC, gr* 125 2016 1.17 9.96
106 Bryant Crawford, WF, fr 133 2016 1.25 9.0
105 Michael Gbinije, SU, sr* 160 2016 1.52 13.4
105 Kihei, Clark, V jr 176 2020 1.68 10.59
103 Malcolm Delaney, VT, sr* 137 2011 1.33 12.6
102 Trevor Duval, D, fr 207 2018 2.03 10.81
102 Jerome Robinson, BC, so* 108 2017 1.06 10.68
102 Seth Allen, VT, jr 88 2016 -.86 10.4