The Stony Brook men’s basketball team finally dropped an America East game on Sunday — a last-minute loss at Binghamton — but the team’s 5-1 start to the conference season still has to be seen as a major success, especially given the Seawolves’ expectations. Before the season began, Stony Brook was picked to finish seventh in the nine-team league.
As of Sunday night, Stony Brook sits in second place, trailing only Vermont, six days ahead of the team’s America East rematch at Island Federal Credit Union Arena on Saturday night.
So how has first-year head coach Jeff Boals so thoroughly exceeded the lowly predictions of his talent-stricken roster? Turnover differential. Let’s demonstrate through some math, shall we?
According to Kenpom.com, an online database for advanced statistics in Division-I men’s basketball, Stony Brook ranks No. 6 of 351 teams in the nation in turnover percentage, losing the ball on 14.5 percent of possessions. The median team in the category, Appalachian State, has a turnover percentage of 18.9, meaning that Stony Brook creates a shot attempt on 4.4 percent more possessions than average.
Data from the same source indicates that the Seawolves have 66.1 possessions per basketball game, meaning that the team creates 2.91 extra shots (4.4 percent of possessions) per game based on its ball security.
Stony Brook averages 1.235 points per non-turnover possession, meaning that its tendency to not turn the ball over gives the team about an extra 3.6 points per game (the product of 2.91 and 1.235).
On the defensive end, the Seawolves force turnovers on 19.9 percent of possessions, 1.0 percent better than average. Doing the same math with corresponding inputs, one can figure that Stony Brook’s defensive turnovers win them an extra 0.8 points per game.
Adding the figures, Stony Brook creates a swing of 4.4 points in the scoring margin on the virtue of turnovers alone. This season, the Seawolves have won four games by less than that margin, so if one were to assume average performance in offensive ball security and defensive ball hawking, it would figure Stony Brook to have a 6-13 overall record and 3-3 America East record, instead of the 10-9 and 5-1 records the team presently has.
Much credit to this phenomenon can be attributed to Stony Brook senior point guard Lucas Woodhouse, who has 101 assists and 34 turnovers this season, a 2.97 assist-to-turnover ratio, one of the best in the nation among qualified players in a crucial statistic for point guards.
Of the 26 players in the country with an assist rate of at least 36 percent, Woodhouse commits turnovers at the very lowest rate.
Carson Puriefoy, the former Stony Brook first-team all-America East point guard, had a 1.32 ratio in the same category. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare Woodhouse to Puriefoy, who always was more of a score-first guard.
But if we look at another pass-oriented point guard, Trae Bell-Haynes, the junior point guard of the America East-leading Vermont Catamounts, has an assist-to-turnover of 2.08 this season, still well behind Woodhouse’s mark.
With the depletion of talent from Stony Brook last season, it was essential that the Seawolves improved their fundamentals to make up for the lack of scoring ability.
Woodhouse has been the catalyst of the team’s fundamentally sound play, emerging as one of the best pass-first guards in the entire country this season. The guard has missed just four free throws on the season, shooting at a 94.7 percent clip that ranks No. 3 in the country.
For Stony Brook to compete for another America East championship, Woodhouse must continue his dominant — and responsible — play.