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Utah basketball: Utes' turnover margin has dramatically improved this year

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 22 2014 1:40 a.m. MST

Jordan Loveridge (21) of the Utah Utes drives against Travis Wear (24) of the UCLA Bruins during NCAA basketball in Salt Lake City, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Jordan Loveridge (21) of the Utah Utes drives against Travis Wear (24) of the UCLA Bruins during NCAA basketball in Salt Lake City, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Turnover margin strongly influences the outcome of football games, and it also has a major impact on basketball games.

The NCAA didn’t start tracking turnover margin until 2008-09, but for five years the Utah basketball team was consistently among the worst in the nation in that category (turnovers per game compared to opponents), ranking between 293rd and 321st in the nation.

This year, however, the Utes are much improved, and the results are showing on the basketball floor, where they are off to a 14-4 start.

It may not seem like a good time to talk about turnovers for the Utes, not after a game in which they nearly threw a win away with a season-high 15 turnovers in a 74-69 victory over UCLA.

However, turnovers, or a lack of them, have been a big reason for Utah’s turnaround winning season compared to four straight losing seasons.

Utah players celebrate near the end of the game against UCLA during NCAA basketball in Salt Lake City, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Utah players celebrate near the end of the game against UCLA during NCAA basketball in Salt Lake City, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

This year, the Utes rank 49th in the nation in turnover margin, way better than the previous five years.

In 2012-13, the Utes ranked 293rd in turnover margin and were 321st the year before that. In Jim Boylen’s last season in 2010-11, the Utes ranked 313th and were 296th in 2009-10. Even in the Utes' NCAA season in 2008-09, they were 312th in the nation.

The Utes are taking better care of the ball with only 10.7 turnovers per game, compared to 13-plus the previous four years. But they’re also forcing more turnovers with more steals.

“In terms of percentages of possessions, our turnovers are at a decent number,’’ said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “We’re creating more and giving ourselves more opportunities, so our assist-to-turnover ratio is favorable.’’

The Utes are also 10th in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.59 and 38th in fewest turnovers per game at 10.7.

NICE AND SUNNY: The Utes head out Wednesday for their annual trip to Arizona State and Arizona. Although they haven’t won yet, the Arizona road trip has been the best for Utah since joining the Pac-12. In all four games in the Grand Canyon State, the Utes have kept it close and have nearly come away with some victories.

In 2012, the Utes lost to Arizona State 57-52 and to Arizona 70-61 in a game they led most of the way before going scoreless in the last five minutes of a 12-0 run by the Wildcats.

Then last year, the Utes lost at ASU 55-54 in overtime, failing on the last possession, before going to Tucson, where they stayed with the No. 3 Wildcats most of the way before falling 60-57 in the final minute.

Krystkowiak says he doesn’t know why the Utes have played so well in Arizona.

“It’s nice and sunny — I don’t know,’’ he said. “We’ve been in positions to be competitive down there, but this is a new year.’’

MORE OGBE: Watch for increased minutes for freshman Kenneth Ogbe this week after he scored 12 points in 12 minutes in the Utes' win over UCLA.

“I think he’s going to play more,’’ Kryskowiak said. “I’d be a pretty bad coach if I didn’t let him play through some more mistakes.’’

HIGH RANKINGS: Utah still ranks high in several Pac-12 statistical categories. The Utes are first in scoring margin (plus-19.9 ppg), first in field goal percentage (51.0 percent), first in 3-point defense (28.7 percent), second in field goal percentage defense (39.3), second in blocked shots (5.17 bpg), second in assists (17.0), second in turnover margin (2.39), second in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.59) and third in steals (7.28).

Utah doesn’t rank as high in conference-only stats, due in part to its easy nonconference schedule, which allowed it to pile up some gaudy numbers.

However, the Utes do rank first in free throw percentage (80.4 percent), second in turnover margin and third in blocked shots and third in steals.

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