The Arizona Wildcats are coming off their first loss of the season, falling at Baylor last Saturday in an ugly offensive game in which they had their worst shooting percentage in coach Sean Miller’s 11 years. That 26.9 percent figure may prove to be an anomaly, but another statistic from that game continues to be a troubling trend.
Arizona turned it over 16 times in that game, the fifth time this season it’s given the ball away at least 15 times. For the year the Wildcats average 12.5 turnovers per game, and their 17.1 turnover percentage is 49th in the country according to KenPom.
It’s not the turnovers in general that have been the issue for Arizona, but the types they are and when they happen. The giveaways tend to come in bunches, and far too many are on the offensive end.
“We have to be better at cutting down on our turnovers,” Miller said Tuesday. “We have played halves where we have 10 or more, and then in the second half of that same game we have five or less. That just happened to us at Baylor.”
Arizona had 11 of its 16 turnovers in Waco in the first half, when it was outscored 35-24. Baylor scored nine points off those 11 turnovers, to just off the five in the second half.
“We have to play a 40-minute game and be able to play with 10 or fewer, and that will help our defense because so many of the points that are scored against us are happening because of our turnovers,” Miller said. “The first four minutes (of a game) when we bring out starting group to the table, we could have four or five turnovers at the first media timeout, and then we can play 15 minutes having one or two.”
As far as the types of fouls Arizona is committing, those on the defensive end haven’t been the problem. It’s the offensive fouls that paint a troubling picture.
Arizona has been called for 32 offensive fouls in 10 games, accounting for 25.6 percent of its turnovers. While offensive fouls don’t have the same immediate impact on a game as a live-ball turnover, it’s fair to say they have a more lasting effect because of what those unnecessary fouls do to an individual player’s availability later in games.
Freshman forward Zeke Nnaji has been the most notable culprit, getting called for 10 offensive fouls including two at Baylor and three in the previous game against Wake Forest. The next-highest tally is Josh Green, with five, though his have mostly come on charges while Nnaji has been called for moving screens and other fouls without the ball.
“We’re working on that,” Miller said. “Zeke has several of them, it’s just a learning process. He’ll settle in and make less of those errors.”
The offensive turnovers are part of a bigger picture for Nnaji, who after bursting onto the scene in his first few games, has seen more and more double-teaming by recent opponents.
“The fact that Zeke is being trapped and double teamed and the coaches that are coaching against us have elected to do that, I think says a lot about who he is as a player,” Miller said. “In fairness to Zeke, Baylor hadn’t shown that a whole lot. We got away from working on that leading into that game, which is on the coach. And he had an early turnover. And when you’re on the road with an early turnover, next thing you have two turnovers. It can take your confidence a little bit and that happened.”
Miller noted that the prevalence of offensive fouls in college basketball is far greater than in any other level of basketball. He said the game invites defenders to try to draw charges.
“College basketball, the way I think the game is going is you just want to put your body in front of a guy driving and just fall down, hope a collision happens and you’re going to get a foul called,” he said. “It’s a game that’s different from FIBA, it’s different from women’s basketball, it’s different in the G-League, it’s different in the NBA, it’s different in the Olympics. I think in college we tend to kind of reward that. We have to look to do that more ourselves, defensively, where he put a roadblock in front of a moving target and get that offensive foul.”