Men’s Basketball: Turnover battle plays large role in Cats’ loss

Jesse Kramer, Reporter


The more shots you take, the more shots you make. That’s how percentages work.

But Northwestern has not been attempting many shots in comparison to its opponents, and that has had an impact on the scoreboard.

Overall, the Wildcats have taken 25 fewer field-goal attempts than the Big Ten teams they have faced.  

Illinois put up 62 shots Wednesday compared to NU’s 52.

The Cats have also shot fewer free throws than their Big Ten opponents, which only adds to that disparity in productive possessions.

Despite outshooting the Illini from the field by several percentage points Wednesday, the Wildcats lost 72-67.

Part of the reason behind this field goal differential is how much NU struggles to force turnovers. The Cats rank No. 311 in the nation and No. 13 in the Big Ten with a 16.7 percent defensive turnover rate.

Forcing turnovers leads to shot attempts — often easy ones in transition — for the defense while taking shot attempts away from the opponent.

The Illini turned the ball over just three times in 61 possessions. That’s just a 4.9 turnover percentage for the Cats defense.

“I haven’t seen that in any college basketball game I’ve been a part of,” Illinois coach John Groce said.

All of those turnovers were offensive fouls, and the dead balls kept NU from capitalizing on the Illinois’ miscues.

The Cats finished with zero points off turnovers. The Illini had 14 off NU’s 11 miscues.

That is in large part by design. Coach Chris Collins has said he would rather contain and protect the basket than extend for steals.

Still, he was disappointed with Wednesday’s result.

“We have to be a lot more active,” Collins said. “We need to be getting some more deflections. Give Illinois credit, but for them to have only three turnovers it just shows our aggressiveness on the defensive end just wasn’t there. That’s got to pick up.”

This turnover disparity also flustered freshman point guard Bryant McIntosh.

“It’s tough to win that way,” he said. “You can’t turn the ball over, especially when you’re not forcing turnovers either. And they did a good job of getting a shot every time down the floor.”

To boot, NU does not possess the lockdown defense it had a year ago. Save for awful shooting by Rutgers, the Big Ten’s second-worst offensive team, Big Ten teams have torched the Cats.

In three NU losses, opponents are shooting 48.1 percent from the field. Their effective field-goal percentage — a stat that accounts for the added value of a 3-pointer—sits at 54.4 percent NU has lost back-to-back games that were close to being wins. One was to Michigan State in overtime, and then Wednesday the Cats’ deficit was 1 point in the final minute.

In these close games, getting just a small handful of extra shots up, and making just one or two, could be the difference.

Collins said turnovers as well as rebounding are two areas that need to improve if the Cats are going to turn these close losses into close wins.

“It comes down to a possession here, a possession there,” Collins said. “It’s not about coming close … This league is about close games. It’s about winning close games.”

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