If there was one thing we could count on in six years of watching Bennett ball, it was this: You usually weren't going to see a lot of turnovers. On either end of the floor.
Coaches will always tell you it's important not to turn the ball over. But it is more than that for Bennett-coached teams.
Offensively, valuing the basketball was paramount because the Cougs played such a limited number of possessions. Beyond that, there was a philosophical emphasis on making the other team play defense for 30-plus seconds, which most college players simply don't want to do. If you give up the ball, you let them off the hook.
Defensively, the most important thing was packing it in and keeping opposing players out of the lane then forcing them to take contested jump shots. Gambling for steals compromises this strategy -- never mind the fact that Bennett coached teams have rarely had the athletes to finish off such a gamble and make the easy buckets you might give up worthwhile -- so it was rare to see a Bennett coached team excel in opponent turnover percentage.*
*Interestingly, Dick Bennett's first two teams were excellent at forcing turnovers. I'll chalk that up to teams struggling to be patient against an unfamiliar defensive system, since their steal percentage ranking was far below their overall TO% ranking. The 2007 and 2008 teams actually had a higher steal percentage than TO%, but you can thank one guy for that.
Ken Bone has made no secret that his defensive philosophy is much different. He prefers what you would consider a Washington-style ball pressure defense that forces the other team into bad decisions and generates fast-break buckets. That didn't exactly play out last year, as the Cougs transitioned with less than ideal personnel for a ball pressure style.
But this year, we're starting to see this philosophy take shape. WSU is being much more aggressive on the perimeter, whether in man-to-man or in the surprisingly effective 2-3 zone. It's not what Bone will eventually want it to be, but it's getting there. And it's paying off.
Today's stat: WSU is ranked 16th nationally opponents' turnover percentage (26.2%) and 26th nationally in their own turnover percentage (17.1%).
As we've stated before, turnovers are so important because they represent the worst possible outcome for an offensive possession -- one that doesn't end with the possibility of the ball going in the basket. In essence, the Cougs are forcing their opponents to do what every coach despises while maximizing their own scoring opportunities. The execution on offense has been particularly breathtaking for a hoops junkie like me, and we're starting to see why it is that Bone came to us with such a stellar reputation as an offensive mind. These guys are executing in a way we haven't seen since the end of the Low/Weaver glory years.
As with most early season stats, it's unlikely both of these will continue at this pace. But neither is a fluke. Both Kansas State and Gonzaga sport turnover percentages around 22 percent on the season, but each turned it over on more than 30 percent of their possessions against WSU. And while Kansas State came into the game forcing their opponents into turnovers on 24.1 percent of their possessions, the Cougs turned it over on just 21.4 percent of their possessions -- most of that coming in the first half as they worked through their nerves.
Turnovers: Just another reason to get excited about this team.