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Calipari’s Incredible Vanishing Turnover

A saying commonly shared by the detractors of John Calipari is the “he just rolls the ball out there and lets them play” excuse or some other variation of that sentence.  While this is likely said out of jealousy or spite because of previous happenings, it’s nonetheless stated frequently on radio programs and message boards.  Being the crazy bunch of fans that we are we’ll defend our coach to the death when it comes to rivals badmouthing him, but are they correct?  The trademark of a good coach (in my mind) is adaptation to the skill set of your current team and winning at a high level regardless of their skill set.  In other words, find the skills and shortcomings of your players and make a system for them rather than finding players who fit your system.  So are the rivals correct?  Or Does Cal just plug the best talent in and hope for the best?  In order to find out, I investigated his advanced statistics since 2006 and tried to find out if his teams played the same system or if they adjusted from year to year depending upon players.  In particular, I focused his defense.

Through my research, I found one commonalty for a Calipari team; the defense is always efficient in stopping an opponent from scoring.  But, while Cal has had no team ranked outside of the top-15 in Adjusted Defense since ’06, the arrival at that efficiency has taken a drastic turn in recent years.  While all categories shift naturally from year-to-year, Calipari coached teams have not been turning over teams like they once have.  In fact, every season since 2007 has seen a decrease in the number of turnovers forced from the previous year.  In terms of the “Four Factors” (which are statistician, Dean Oliver’s, four highest correlating factors of basketball success), Turnover Rate is the second most important factor in efficient defense behind effective Field Goal Percentage.  The amazing thing; Calipari has taken his team from 64th nationally in Turnover Rate in 2006 to 301st last season and still maintains one of the most efficient defenses nationally every year.  Below is a chart containing various changes in his defense over the years including things like Possessions per game, Block Percentage, and Adjusted Defense. (All from

As you can see, it’s not only Turnover Rate that has been decreasing, possessions since 2006 have dropped as well (around 6 per game).  Even though possessions do not directly affect Turnover Rate (turnovers divided by possessions), it’s my belief that this is one of the reasons for the decline.  Reason being; a slower paced game naturally leads to the opponent making fewer mistakes in transition because it’s a more cerebral/half-court style game. So while the number is not directly affected in the calculation it’s indirectly affected because of the make-up of the game.  My second theory on the vanishing turnover; Calipari teams have been dwindling in depth over the past number of seasons.  In terms of players to logging at least 25% of team minutes, it’s gone from 9 players in 2009, to 9 in 2010, to 6 in 2011, to 7 in 2012, and now 7 so far this year.  So, depth too has dropped with the turnovers.  This also can explain the fall in opponent miscues because a team with fewer players will have to play more passive due to potential foul trouble.

Over the years Calipari has dealt with his fair share of criticism, some deserved and some undeserved, but for a rival or national talking head to say he cannot adapt to in-game strategies is ridiculous.  Over the years he has slowed the tempo, quit forcing a high rate of turnovers, and has had depth issues.  But, despite the roster turnover and shift in style he has still found away to remain highly successful on the defensive side.


Article written by Jonathan Schuette

18 Comments for Calipari’s Incredible Vanishing Turnover

  1. new coach!
    8:33 pm November 19, 2012 Permalink

  2. B
    8:33 pm November 19, 2012 Permalink

    The turnover stat would be more effective if you also found what Cal’s opponents’ offensive turnover rate were. I have a hunch he’s been facing tougher teams since 2006, tougher teams with lower rates of turnovers on offense.

  3. nassau65
    8:47 pm November 19, 2012 Permalink

    yeah, the Cats were awful last year……

  4. David B
    9:06 pm November 19, 2012 Permalink

    Cal’s teams are less focused on getting the steal, and more focused on staying in defensive position. This will result in less turnovers but lower defensive shooting percentage.

  5. DaveTV
    9:11 pm November 19, 2012 Permalink


    Maybe it has something to do with the quality of the teams being played. You can’t get Florida or Vandy to turn the ball over like you can some of thoze bozo teams Memphis used to play.

  6. Jimmy Hotsauce
    9:14 pm November 19, 2012 Permalink

    This is life-changing insight

  7. Bobby Petrino
    9:15 pm November 19, 2012 Permalink

    Hire Me!!!!!!!

  8. new coach!
    9:16 pm November 19, 2012 Permalink

  9. Dee Sanders
    9:32 pm November 19, 2012 Permalink

    Good Article, as usual. Solid insight on an interesting stat

  10. Richard
    9:38 pm November 19, 2012 Permalink

    4) I agree completely with your reasoning. This stat has less to do with depth of the team and conditioning as it does with Cal’s philosophy on defensive positioning. You will hardly see a Kentucky player “gamble” and put himself out of solid defensive position. Gambling for steals will lead to higher turnovers but will also lead to more open shots for the opponent if the gamble doesn’t pay off.

  11. Bob Knight
    9:45 pm November 19, 2012 Permalink

    Kentucky will not be playing Indiana next weekend for the first time in my lifetime. It is a complete travesty and is totally unacceptable. Sean Woods made some valid points today. Making deals with the Devil won’t feel so good when the whole house of cards comes crashing down. It is on its way Big Blue Nation.

  12. BPsycho
    9:59 pm November 19, 2012 Permalink

    “Calipari’s in the house of the rising sun. Chicken in the bread pan pickin’ out dough.”

  13. barn
    10:29 pm November 19, 2012 Permalink

    just watched gtown/ucla. even though gtown won, ucla looks like they will be scary good by march. gtown is solid

  14. Blueblooded
    10:38 pm November 19, 2012 Permalink

    4&10 are right. Interesting article, but Cal has openly talked about the fact that unlike what other teams do, he doesn’t want them taking the risk & allowing the defense to break down.

  15. randomer
    11:00 pm November 19, 2012 Permalink

    4, 10, 14 – agreed. it is also true, like the poster says, that this approach does reduce the tendency for foul trouble and works in favor of teams with a short bench. but that is not the driver for Cal playing this style, he just has figured out that when players stay in position and pressure shots and rebound, teams score less points. after all a missed shot and rebound is the same as a turnover without the risk of fouling or defensive breakdown associated with gambling for steals and trapping.

  16. esteban
    12:41 am November 20, 2012 Permalink

    14 and 16 are spot on…we have taller more athletic players than every team we play…so Cal wants them to stay in between their man and the basket and pressure the shot instead of gambling and allowing wide open layups

  17. old_stool
    8:51 am November 20, 2012 Permalink

    Integrity is more important than National Championships! And I miss those short shorts. Calipari is the worst thing ever in the whole world. I like candy.

  18. bigbluejon
    9:49 am November 20, 2012 Permalink

    “Won and Done” absolutely dispicable.