Men's Basketball Sports

Column: Turnovers key for Cougars success in stretch run

Red-shirt junior guard Ronnie Johnson provided a spark for the Cougars in his 23 minutes, with seven points, three rebounds and five assists. | Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

Junior guard Ronnie Johnson’s experience at the point will be vital for the Cougars down the stretch. | File photo/The Cougar

It’s obvious the Cougars can make a run at the conference crown after their impressive victory over Southern Methodist University Mustangs on Monday night.

What’s not clear is which team will show up for the rest of the season: the team that carelessly turns the ball over or the team that forces turnovers?

With only two losses separating first through sixth place, the race for the American Athletic Conference title may come down to something as simple as which team is protecting the ball better.

Since entering conference play, the Cougars have gone 6-4, which seems great compared to years past, but they started the season at a remarkable 10-2.  Conference play arguably means greater strength of schedule, but this is the  American Athletic Conference — the Cougars are not playing in the Big East or the Big 10.

To make a legitimate run at the title, the team needs to find a way to lower its turnovers per game while simultaneously creating turnovers on defense.  In eight conference games, the Cougars have committed almost as many turnovers as they had during their first 12 games.

During conference games, the Cougars are averaging 14.1 turnovers per game and are only taking the ball away 12.8 times per game.  Throughout non-conference play, the Cougars averaged just 11.2 turnovers per game and forced the ball away 13.9 times per game.

The Cougars’ points-off-turnover margin has also decreased during conference play: the team has allowed 14.1 points off turnovers per game while only scoring 13 points off turnovers per game.But they have allowed only 10.6 points off turnovers and scored a whopping 17.8 points off turnovers per game in non-conference play.

Even during the Cougars’ latest three-game win streak, the team has committed 13 turnovers per game, which has resulted in 15.3 points per contest for the opposing team.  One helpful thing during this stretch was their ability to capitalize on the turnovers they forced.  Although they only forced 11.7 turnovers per game, they were able to score an average of 15.6 points off of those turnovers.

Despite leaving behind their biggest challenge in SMU, the Cougars need to reduce their turnover rate and capitalize on opponents’ turnovers if they want a chance at the title.

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