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ACC Butterfingers

Turnovers and the players who cough it up

NCAA Basketball: N.C. State at Syracuse
Feb 11, 2020; Syracuse, New York, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack guard Braxton Beverly (10) and Syracuse Orange guard Joe Girard III (11) battle for a loose ball during the second half at the Carrier Dome.
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Turnovers and who commits them are something most teams would just as soon forget – except when the lost possessions prove crucial and the head coach decides to verbally flog his team to underline the importance of solid execution.

Over the years some ACC programs – Georgia Tech, UNC, NC State – glibly deleted turnovers from accounting team statistics. One sports information director frankly admitted he left out turnovers because they’re a “negative statistic”. As if they didn’t exist if left unacknowledged.

Retired UNC coach Roy Williams was particularly fond of taking players to task for losing turnovers, although his preferred uptempo offense inherently produced a plethora of possessions that allowed leeway for mistakes.

Last year, it certainly didn’t help the Tar Heels’ turnover average – 13th in the ACC in 2021 at .097 – or their assist:turnover ratio – ninth in the league at 1.04 – that the player with considerable control of the ball was Caleb Love.

The point guard from St. Louis, a freshman last year, arrived as a top recruit and certainly showed promise. His experience, though, reflected the challenge of running an ACC team, especially one that tries to force tempo.

Getting more playing time than anyone else on the squad, Love averaged a turnover every 8.9 minutes played, second-worst among the ACC’s turnover leaders. His 3.13 turnovers per game were fourth-most among league leaders.

Perhaps Love was so busy setting up his own shots that he lost track of his playmaking role, or was so busy implementing his playmaking role he lost track of personal offensive execution. Love was second-worst after teammate Leaky Black among ACC regulars in field goal accuracy (.316).

Striking the right balance between handling the ball and scoring it takes many superior players a season or two to master.

Given his talent and experience, one expects Love will show considerable improvement this season, as ordinarily occurs when players grow from freshmen to sophomores.

A number of prominent ’21 turnover generators, like Love, also carried their teams’ offensive banner, taking risks to create scoring opportunities. Notre Dame’s Prentiss Hubb (14.6 ppg) and Clemson’s Aamir Simms (13.4) led their squads in scoring and ballhandling miscues. Love (10.5) and Louisville’s David Johnson (12.6 and a second-round NBA draftee) finished second on their teams in per-game point production.

2021 ACC Leaders In Turnovers
Player, School Class TO Asts A:TO Min/TO TO/G
Caleb Love, NC So. 91 104 1.14 8.9 3.13
Prentiss Hubb, ND Jr. 83 152 1.83 11.6 3.19
Michael Devoe, GT Sr. 68 87 1.27 13.3 2.62
MJ Walker, FS* NA 62 61 1.02 11.2 2.58
David Johnson, UL* NA 61 60 1.02 10.9 3.16
Joseph Girard III, SU Sr. 59 98 1.66 13.1 2.11
Xavier Johnson, UP* NA 59 103 1.75 8.8 3.28
Aamir Simms, C* NA 58 65 1.12 12.3 2.42
Jordan Usher, GT Sr. 58 72 1.24 13.2 2.23
*No longer in ACC.