Reduce Fouls and Turnovers: Increase Your Competitive Edge

If you were to ask me what any coach with any kind of talent can realistically set as goals to increase his team’s competitive edge, I would immediately spit out “don’t foul and don’t turn the ball over.” Many would argue that statistically these are the worst two plays in basketball.

To large degrees, most other team statistics are dependent on one kind of athletic ability or basketball skill or another. But reducing fouls and turnovers can be affected more by choices of systems, coaching, team play, and individual player motivation and focus.

Both fouls and turnovers alike fly in the face of one of the oldest and truest sports adages, “Don’t Beat Yourself; Make Your Opponent Beat You.” It’s pretty simple. When you put your opponent at the FT line, they usually shoot a higher FT% than from the floor and when you turn it over, you have an empty possession yourself and you give your opponent a great chance to score if the TO is a live ball TO.

Graphic proof of this hypothesis was evident in this past NCAA season. Teams that were in the Top 50 statistically in either fewest fouls per game or fewest TO’s per game were by and large successful. However, the real eye opener is the list of twelve NCAA teams that made the Top 50 in BOTH. Check it out:

  • #1 Duke (29-4) #21 in fewest fouls; #37 in fewest TO’s.
  • #2 Wisconsin (31-3) # 1 in PF and # 1 in TO’s. *(This is nothing short of amazing but the Badgers are perennial contenders in both categories.)
  • #5 Notre Dame (29-5) #6 and #5.
  • #8 Virginia (29-3) #8 and #3.
  • #14 Northern Iowa (30-3) #9 and #16.
  • #19 Iowa St. (25-8) #19 and #44.
  • 3rd Round NCAA Iowa (21-11) #30 and #48.
  • 2nd Round Harvard (22-7) #29 and #24.
  • 2nd Round Lafayette (20-12) #24 and #50.

There were 3 other teams that didn’t make the NCAA tourney that appeared on both Top 50’s and I would consider one of them an anomaly- Cal Poly (13-16), (#39 and #2). The second-USC Upstate (24-11), (#50 and #40.) had a outstanding record but failed to win their conference tourney

The third was Michigan (#7 and #8) and they’re anything but an anomaly- since low fouling and turnover rates are regular aspects of their program and that their playing style produced an NCAA runner up in 2013 and a regional finalist in 2014. In addition, they played most of this past season without Caris Levert and half the season without Derrick Walton Jr and were still competitive with a young, undermanned roster.

Some might contend that reducing fouling might curb natural defensive aggressiveness, I would argue that these teams play tough without fouling.

Others would argue that if a team is worrying about not turning it over, they might not be attacking. I would argue that these teams attack under control.

To review, based on the evidence presented here, these are certainly viable approaches for many. Choosing styles of play is always risk/reward based. The arguments presented here are lower risk options but present potentially high rewards.


  1. Do you know the stats for women’s D1 from last season? I feel a lot of what affects personal fouls and TOs points directly to ball IQ, body control, conditioning and skill set on the player side and how that player is being coached. Great article Coach!

  2. Couldn’t agree more. If you are fouling defensively at a high level… have poor defensive fundamentals. At the high school level it usually means limited lateral movement effort causing them to defend with their hands or BAD positioning.
    Turnovers are killers in high school ……most high school teams shoot lower percentages……so they can’t afford to squander opportunities.

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