Former Oklahoma basketball coach Billy Tubbs used to proudly put into practice the philosophy that if you take more shots than your opponents, you have more chances to score and more of an opportunity to win than the opposition. It's a variation of the adage: "You can't win if you don't have the ball" or "You have to score to win"
As former University of Missouri at Kansas City basketball coach Rich Zvosec pointed out in a recent article for the Big 12 men's basketball blog "Covering the Baseline," the teams that take more shots have a better opportunity of making more shots. And the good teams do this by creating more possessions. In other words, one thing that separates the good teams from all the rest is their ability to limit turnovers and tighten their defense, including making good defensive adjustments, to create more opportunities for their offense.
There are two ways to get more shots than your opponents, Zvosec says: "The first is by having fewer turnovers. As an old coach told me, ‘You can't shoot if you ain't got it.' The other way is to get more offensive rebounds."
Sounds pretty simple, but in reality it requires a lot of extra effort. "It's not about talent. But rather about hustle and a relentless pursuit of excellence," Zvosec writes.
The former coach and analyst on the Big 12 Network examined the Big 12 box scores for every team over the past ten games (through Monday's games) and what he found was that three of the top four teams in the conference standings - Missouri, Kansas and Iowa State - protect the ball like it was their long lost brother and take full advantage of their opponents' offensive mistakes. Missouri, for example is 9-1 during this period, and in only one game (a game the Tigers won, by the way) did Mizzou commit more turnovers than its opponent. Kansas committed fewer turnovers and came out on top in six of its past ten games before Tuesday night, and Iowa State won the turnover battle in seven of its ten games, winning six times.
Missouri leads the conference in the fewest turnovers, averaging 11 per game. Kansas is fourth in this statistical area.
Baylor was the one team among the league's top four, just past the midway point of the conference season, that was able to ring up victories while committing more turnovers than its Big 12 foes. The Bears won five of seven games in which they had more giveaways than takeaways, but Zvosec pointed out that this was because Baylor had fewer of what he termed "silent turnovers" in those games than the opposition.
Silent turnovers describe missed free throws at the end of a game. "If you miss a free throw, you have missed a chance to score," Zvosec says. That is why Baylor is 8-3 in the conference, he says. In games that have been decided by five points or less, coach Scott Drew's Bears are making 85 percent of their foul shots. As a result, Baylor doesn't give up crucial possessions at the end of ball games. Similarly, Missouri is shooting 81 percent from the foul line in the last four minutes of its games.
When you look at success on the offensive boards, which is the other factor Zvosec cites that leads to more shots and more chances for your offense to score, Baylor is averaging around 12 per game, which ranks third in the conference. Missouri is fourth and Kansas is fifth in this often overlooked category.
Zvosec brings his analysis full circle, concluding that when you factor in turnover margin and offensive rebounds, it shouldn't be surprising that Missouri has taken 194 more shots than its opponents in its last ten games. Iowa State has been plus-99, Kansas plus-73, and Baylor has taken 35 more shots than the opposition. When you have that kind of shooting advantage, you're going to win a high percentage of games, he says.
Silent turnovers will play an increasingly critical role late in the regular season and in postseason tournament play when the games mean more and typically are closer as the clock winds down in crunch time.