The Mikan Drill

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A closer look at the tempo of Mark Turgeon led teams

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In our last post, we looked at the strength and weaknesses of Terrell Stoglin. After watching the tape on him, my main question coming away was how would new coach Mark Turgeon utilize him in the offense. Turgeon led teams have been some of the slowest teams in the nation each year, while one of Stoglin’s main strengths is his decision making on the fast break to get his team easy baskets.

This post stemmed from a desire to get a more educated look at why Turgeon’s teams are so slow and has morphed into a plea for someone to start tracking shot clock data for college hoops, which would cause further analysis on individual team’s possessions. From the article, tempo can be deflated if a team forces the offense of the opposition to use the majority of the shot clock. Also, a team can still run in transition yet look slow on paper if they use the entire shot clock on possessions in which they don’t get a quick basket.

So what characteristics does the teams coached by Mark Turgeon exhibit? I looked at Texas A&M’s NCAA tournament game against Florida State last year, as well as Wichita State’s 2007 NCAA Tournament game against George Mason. I feel comfortable using a 2007 game to show the trends of Turgeon teams because, as you can see from his coaching resume, his style has stayed consistent since 2003.

Note: Before we begin, I wanted to explain my methodology on one point. I talked about wanting shot clock data available made above. For the A&M – FSU game, the shot clock was consistently on display, so I recorded the time each possession ended – either by a shot, turnover or foul that led to free throws. If a team got an offensive rebound, I did not record the time the shot was taken if the follow up was taken quickly. If the ball was reset and the team ran their normal offense, I did record the time. Also, I stopped recording with about 2:30 left in the game, as A&M ramped up their pace in an attempt to comeback and were not playing their usual style. 

That is why you will see a slight difference in the total number of possessions between FSU and A&M. Unfortunately, the shot clock data was not available for the Wichita State game, so we have a very small sample size for this data. Also, we have no other data for comparison, so take the figures with a grain of salt and interpret them how you see fit.  

What we will find is that Turgeon’s teams slow the tempo on both the offensive side of the ball and the defensive side of the ball. Let’s start with a look at the offense.

Focus on defensive rebounds

Turgeon focuses heavily on protecting the defensive glass and preventing offensive rebounds. His teams have not finished lower than 67th in offensive rebounds allowed since 2003 and have finished in the top 11 in the nation 4 times since then. They almost always send 4 players to rebound and often send 5 to make sure they secure the missed shot.

While this does allow them to rebound well, it does not allow them to push the tempo. At most, they have one player who is able to receive the outlet pass but it would be foolish for that one player to push the tempo when he is outnumbered. This means they are forced to slowly bring the ball up the court, which slows down the pace of the game. In collecting shot clock data for this game, I characterized possessions used within 7 seconds of the shot clock starting to be possessions used the result of transition. In the FSU game, A&M ended a possession in the first 7 seconds only 8 times out of 56 possessions (14.3%).

They do not like to send 3 guys to defensive rebound, have the rebounder give a quick outlet pass and try to get a 2 on 2 or 3 on 2 break. They are taught to secure the defensive rebound before they turn up the court and the point guard is often coming back toward the ball instead of moving up the court. This severely limits the opportunities to beat the defense down the court.


I have to assume Tugeon will continue this in his new job at Maryland. The Terps are lacking in height this year, so it will be necessary for them to send as many players as possible to the defensive glass to make sure they secure the rebound. This could prevent transition opportunities for Stoglin, however, as he will be moving toward the rebounder to get the ball instead of moving up court.

Patient offense

Turgeon’s teams have shown that they are very patient on the offensive end. Some of this may come from the lack of offensive stars under Turgeon but I think much of it is by design. They had 15 out of 58 total possessions take at least 22 seconds against FSU (26.8%). They move slowly and methodically when setting up their offense and take care to not make a mistake or force a bad shot.

Without a true offensive star (although you could argue Khris Middleton was turning into one last season), they rely more on a total team offensive strategy to get open shots. They don’t really have a player who can be successful in isolation plays, so they rely on multiple screens to be set before they can get a shot. This takes time off the clock and contributes to the slow pace of the game.

Now let’s move to the defensive side of the ball.

Disregard for offensive rebounds

Turgeon does not focus heavily on fighting for offensive rebounds but teaches his team to get back to prevent fast breaks by the opposition. Texas A&M did have a 37.7% offensive rebounding percentage last season (12th in the nation) but I believe this is more of an abnormality than the start of a trend. By not sending multiple players to the offensive glass, Turgeon’s teams prevent leak outs by the opposing guards, forcing teams to walk the ball up.

This is how A&M usually looked after a shot last season. They have three guys tracking back for defense, with two guys going to the offensive glass. Most teams will send at least three to fight for the offensive rebound, so A&M is being conservative. In fact, Middleton is not fighting very hard for the loose ball. He is there to grab any rebounds that may fall out of the pack but he is not going all in to fight for the loose ball and risk being caught behind the play if FSU gets a chance at a fast break.

Due to their gameplan of disregarding offensive rebounds for the most part, and emphasizing transition defense, A&M allowed only 8 possessions with a shot taken in the first 7 seconds, out of 52 total timed possessions (15.4%). You can see from the number of possessions how limited FSU was in transition opportunities, showing that A&M slows the game on the offensive end but also on the defensive side of the ball.

Not gambling on defense

Another way A&M slows the pace on the defensive side of the ball is by forcing teams to use more of the shot clock because they do not gamble for steals, allowing the offense an easy look at the basket. They try to keep everything in front of them on the perimeter, which cuts off penetration lanes, forcing the offense to pass the ball around the perimeter, searching for an opening. As seen in his resume, Turgeon’s teams have usually been exceptional on defense, partly due to their ability to force their opponents into tough shots by not allowing them to get to the rim.

Last year, A&M’s steal percentage was 10.1% and 9.9% the year before that (100th and 151st in the nation, respectively). By not gambling for steals on perimeter passes, they are able to keep the ball in front of them and make it difficult to drive, taking away alot of options on the offensive end. This causes teams to use more of the shot clock as they look for ways to probe the defense, slowing down the pace of the game. 11 of FSU’s possessions took at least 22 seconds, which was 21.15% of total possessions, partly showing how long it took to find a breakdown in A&M’s defense (if there ever was one).

It’s not like Turgeon’s teams never run, though. Let’s take a look at their favorite way to push the tempo.

Running off turnovers

One of the few times you see a Turgeon team run is off a turnover and they try to push the ball after almost every open court turnover. This is because they know the defense may be out of balance and they look to take advantage of this fact.

Turgeon’s teams have never been great at forcing turnovers, mainly because they do not press for steals, as seen above. Maryland has also not been proficient at forcing turnovers, so this may not help them if they wish to raise Turgeon’s tempo. I did want to highlight that Turgeon’s teams do not walk the ball up every single time, they have shown the ability to push the pace.

What does this mean for Maryland? 

I must say I am concerned for Terrell Stoglin next season. His strength is in the open court and Turgeon’s teams do not play at a fast tempo. Turgeon’s teams play nearly extensively in the half court, which we saw is an area where Stoglin needs improvement. With Turgeon’s focus on defensive rebounds and Maryland’s lack of height next season, Turgeon may focus even harder on protecting the defensive glass, which may put his teams at an even slower pace.

That’s not to say Turgeon won’t modify his coaching strategy and allow Stoglin to run. If he slightly de-emphasizes defensive rebounding, he can give Stoglin another player to run with in transition. He can slow the pace in other ways, by continuing to teach his teams to not gamble for steals or crash the offensive glass.

In my opinion, I would want Stoglin to be out in transition as much as possible, as he is more effective in the open court than the half court. Turgeon has never had a guard as quick as Stoglin, so he may change his style a bit to match his personnel. If he doesn’t utilize the speed of Stoglin in the open court, I believe he will be wasting a valuable asset. I believe Maryland will play at a much slower pace than they have in the past few years under Gary Williams due to the defensive style Turgeon plays. If he does choose to consistently walk the ball up on offense, Stoglin will be grossly under-utilized. This is one of the most interesting developments I will be watching in the first month of the season.


Written by Joshua Riddell

October 10, 2011 at 11:59 am

4 Responses

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  1. How do you think Turgeon will play over time after recruiting top level talent to Maryland?


    October 25, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    • If Turgeon can get top level talent, he will be fine. He is a great X’s and O’s coach and I think he can take teams to new heights (for him) if he just gets the talent.

      This is why his style of play choice will be crucial. If he plays a slow down style, his teams better win because big time recruits may not want to play that way. If he plays quickly, he can handle some down years as recruits will not be turned off by a walk it up style.


      October 25, 2011 at 10:50 pm

  2. […] Alex Len eligible but Maryland could be one of those teams depending on how Turgeon coaches the team. I have talked at length at how Turgeon’s slow pace may affect Terrell Stoglin so it will be interesting to see how that dynamic plays out. Turgeon already puts an emphasis on […]

  3. […] is a considerably older link, but it’s amazing how accurate it is about the breakdown of Mark Turgeon’s offense and defense. Compare it to this season, and it’s strikingly […]

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