Bucknell and Turnovers

Posted by on February 19, 2013

There has been a lot of talk all year long about VCU’s havoc defense. The type of defense Shaka Smart’s team plays is exciting to watch and pretty effective. Currently, VCU is 30th in the country in AdjD.  Bucknell is a team with an equally unique defense, but not even close to the same media attention.


Dave Paulsen’s Bucknell squad currently sits at 22-5 and is coming off of a big road victory at Lehigh. The team is led by senior big man Mike Muscala and is ranked 50th in the country in AdjD. They have accomplished this by being the “anti-VCU”. Bucknell does the fantasy sports equivalent of “punting” a category on defense. They don’t look to create turnovers on defense at all, instead they focus on contesting shot attempts and keeping opponents off the offensive glass. Bucknell ranks number nine in the nation in opponent’s eFG%, number two in the nation in opponent’s in defensive rebounding, and number 345 in the nation in forcing turnovers.


To make matters more interesting, the Bison also don’t turn the ball over themselves (on offense). If you don’t like watching teams turn the ball over, Bucknell games are the ones for you. If you think about this strategy a little deeper, it’s a very odd concept. On offense, Paulsen stresses not turning the ball over and not crashing the glass (presumably to focus on getting back on defense). On defense, Paulsen forces his opponents to use the same exact strategy he uses! If Paulsen believes taking care of the ball and getting back on defense is the best way to play basketball, why does he enable his opponent to do exactly that? The answer here is probably that he believes that Bucknell can play Bucknell basketball better than their opponents play Bucknell basketball. Confusing, I know.


For fun, I added offensive TO% and defensive TO% together for every team this season. As I figured, Bucknell came out on top (the lowest total):



Basic logic says that the total (Off TO% + Def TO%) should have no correlation to winning/efficiency. A low total means your TO% is good on offense, but bad on defense. A high total means your TO% is bad on offense, but good on defense.  These should cancel each other out either way. However, the previous table shows that there are some pretty solid teams with low totals. To compare, the table below shows the bottom 10 of the table (their games consist of many turnovers):



VCU barely makes it on the list, but overall these teams are definitely weaker than the first list. I wondered if there was anything to this finding, so I added five more years of data and found the correlation between  Total TO% and Efficiency (AdjO-AdjD). I got an r-value of -.33, meaning there is a small negative correlation between Total TO% and Efficiency. In basketball terms, this means that teams who don’t force turnovers but don’t turn the ball over themselves tend to be better than teams who do force turnovers but also turn the ball over themselves.


Here’s the top 10 Bucknell-esque teams for 2008-2013. Notre Dame and Mike Brey dominate this list and of course 2013 Bucknell is right there with them:




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