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UNC Basketball: Steals-to-Turnovers Differential

A small group of Tar Heels in the Roy Williams era have completed a season with more steals than turnovers. Who are they? Read on to find out.

The physical basketball is the most precious commodity in a basketball game. The more often your team possesses it and therefore keeps it away from your opponent, the better chance you have of coming away victorious.

Certain players seemingly have a knack for both maintaining possession of the ball and taking it away from the opposition. And if the basketball is the most precious commodity in the sport, then the ability to hold onto that commodity and take it away from others is a rather valuable skill set.

In the Roy Williams era at North Carolina (2003-present), there is a select group of student-athletes who have actually finished an entire season with more steals than turnovers.

There are 27 players in the Roy Williams era who have technically achieved this goal. Here’s that entire list (in chronological order):

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However, it’s appropriate to narrow the list to those who were part of the regular playing rotation. Let’s make the cutoff point 10 steals. 

Of Carolina student-athletes who had at least 10 steals in a single season, there are only 13 who have done so while amassing more total steals than turnovers.

Here’s that list in order of total number of steals:

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The sheer number of steals is impressive to see, but another helpful distinction is which student-athletes on the list achieved the greatest differential between their steals and turnovers.

Here’s the list in order of steals-to-turnover differential:

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As you look at these lists, several highlights pop out:

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  • Jackie Manuel (2003-04, 2004-05) and Reggie Bullock (2010-11, 2012-13) are the only players to appear twice on the list. You can’t help but notice that this change for Manuel coincided with Roy Williams taking over the Carolina program. Despite completing two seasons with more steals than turnovers, neither player finished with more steals than turnovers for his Carolina career.
  • Not only does Ty Lawson sit atop the list of most steals (75) in one of these seasons, he’s also second on the steal-to-turnover differential list (+9).
  • Notice the occurrence of multiple entries from each of Roy Williams’ first two national champion teams. The 2004-05 team is represented by Jackie Manuel, Melvin Scott, and David Noel. The 2008-09 team is represented by Ty Lawson and Danny Green.
  • Not only did the 2008-09 team have two entries on the list, but they were both starters. In fact, as you can see from the list ordered by number of steals, Lawson and Green are sitting in the first two positions.
  • Looking further at the 2008-09 team, Lawson had the most turnovers on the roster with 66. That tally is the “lowest most turnovers” on a Roy Williams UNC team.

Before abandoning the subject of steals vs. turnovers, I would be remiss not to mention that there is an even smaller group of players who have finished their time at Carolina with more steals than turnovers for their entire career.

Let that sink in. More steals than turnovers in an entire college playing career.

Turnovers first appeared in the UNC record book in the 1981-82 season, so our pool of players is limited to those who started their career in 1981-82 through the present. This career list is not refined to the Roy Williams era (as the single-season list is) but is inclusive of every student-athlete on the roster since 1981-82.

Similar to the single-season list, there is a greater number of players technically on the list (13 to be exact). However, using our same “10 steal” filter as the single season list, there are exactly three Tar Heels who have finished their career with at least 10 assists and have more turnovers than steals:

  • Wes Miller (2004-07): 45 steals, 43 turnovers
  • Larry Davis (1992-94): 11 steals, 9 turnovers
  • Stilman White (2011-12, 14-17): 11 steals, 10 turnovers

The early returns on the 2020-21 season show Andrew Platek as the only student-athlete currently with more steals (six) than turnovers (five). It’s worth mentioning (as you see on the full, technical list) that he finished the 2018-19 season with more steals than turnovers. Additionally, while Anthony Harris is yet to play this season, in his five games in 2019-20, he had four steals against just two turnovers.

Will we be able to add another name to this list when the 2020-21 season is in the books? Stay tuned!

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