For the Gophers, the change is obvious.
A year ago, ball handling was a major weakness for a team that had a turnover percentage of 21.5, ranked 263rd in the nation.
But three games in, Minnesota appears to have improved substantially in that area.
The Gophers have just 28 turnovers in their last three games, acquiring just eight in their last two. Their turnover percentage (number of turnovers divided by possessions) has dropped, correspondingly, to 13.5, well below the national average of 18.3.
That’s much better than their first three games, a year ago. The Gophers had just eight turnovers in their opener, but then collected 19 and 17 in their next two, to average 14.6 a game as opposed to the 9.3 turnovers a game Minnesota is making now.
It’s still early, of course, and things could turn around for the Gophers quickly, particularly when they happen upon better defenses. But the change is notable, considering that Minnesota was so consistently bad in that area for the last two years – seemingly regardless of the opponent. That means that the Gophers are turning themselves over less, which is encouraging.
Pitino said ball handling is something he’s emphasized quite a bit in practice, as a part of playing tough in general. Addressing turnovers is hard to do in specific drills, and former Gophers coach Tubby Smith struggled to get his teams to improve in that area. Hypothetically, the Gophers seem at a greater risk for turnovers considering the uptick in pace – but that hasn’t been the case.
Perhaps the Gophers have focused more on ball handling because of the threat the faster play brings. But the reason the team has looked so much better now is likely either due to a small sample size or the results of a change in coaching.