EAST LANSING — Turnovers. Turnovers. Turnovers.
For all the good No. 22 Michigan State basketball has shown early in the season and in Wednesday’s 73-64 win over Louisville, the drumbeat of too many giveaways continues to dominate.
That’s the bad news.
The good? Tom Izzo’s review of the Spartans’ generous nature reveals the majority of their problems are self-created, to the point where he and his staff determined “12 or 13” of MSU’s 19 turnovers against the Cardinals were unforced.
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“We're having over two-thirds of ours, in our minds, that are unforced,” Izzo said after a walkthrough Thursday. “Which is borderline ridiculous.”
The Spartans (6-2) enter Saturday’s 5 p.m. home game with Toledo with plenty going right, particularly a defense that ranks second in the nation in adjusted defense — points allowed per 100 possessions — at 88 according to KenPom.com, just behind Houston's 87.9. They are starting to get better point guard play from Tyson Walker and A.J. Hoggard, as the duo splits the role, and watching Marcus Bingham Jr. emerge as a shot-blocker, defender and scorer, among other positives.
Yet turnovers continue to dominate the talk.
“If we figure it out with the turnovers and the offense, I think we're a very dangerous team because we play a lot of defense,” said Walker, who had a career-high 10 assists and four of the Spartans’ 10 steals against the Cardinals. “It may not look like it, but we do. That's why the turnovers don't seem like a better problem. But our defense helps a lot with that.”
MSU ranks 312th of 350 Division I teams with 16.1 turnovers per game. That could be even more of an issue next week as the Spartans open Big Ten play Wednesday at Minnesota. The Spartans rank 12th of 14 conference teams during nonleague play in giveaways. Their nine regulars all average at least a turnover a game, with Walker (2.9) and Hoggard (2.4) giving the ball up the most, followed by Joey Hauser (1.9) and Bingham (1.6), Max Christie (1.5), Gabe Brown and Malik Hall (1.4 each).
“Our turnovers could be corrected really easy. Just more focus, just knowing where we're at,” Walker said. “I think we had a couple turnovers just stepping out of bounds, I had a charge not (being) under control. So those are easily fixed.”
Hoggard committed one turnover in Wednesday’s win over Louisville, but it was a microcosm of the team’s persistent issues. His attempted no-look pass into the post pinballed off two defenders and ended up going the other way for an alley-oop dunk in transition.
The Spartans’ 129 turnovers have turned into 134 points for opponents. Their 19 giveaways Wednesday — which included several players stepping out of bounds or traveling – became 21 points for the Cardinals.
And they have come in clusters. MSU committed four of its first-half turnovers, including Hoggard's, in a three-minute, 39-second stretch, followed by four more in the first 3:35 of the second half, then three more in the final 4:25, as the Cardinals pecked back within single digits.
“We just sometimes get caught up in the flow of the game, trying to make home runs as coach would call it, just trying to do things and making pizzazz play for the crowd to go loud instead of making the safe play,” Hoggard said. “We get caught sometimes in stretches where we don't take care of the ball, which is not good. It's something we need to work on.”
Told of Hoggard’s comment Thursday, Izzo beamed at his sophomore’s mature response. “If he said that,” he joked, “I'd kiss him.”
Izzo also felt Hoggard and Walker’s ability to penetrate the paint and kick the ball to the wings and corners for open looks showed throughout the Louisville game, as the Spartans went 10-for-18 from 3-point range.
“But when you're looking over there and throwing over here and trying to be Magic, you end up tragic,” Izzo said. “And that's a very good point he's made, and we've talked about that a lot — go for singles, go for singles, go for singles. And that's where I think if we can get in there and kick out, we got enough shooters, we really do. It might not seem like it, although at times last night, it looked a little better.”
Though correcting the giveaways remains a priority, Izzo also made sure to point out the growth the Spartans showed, and particularly the defensive job Christie did in shutting out Louisville’s leading scorer, Noah Locke. MSU held the Cardinals to 41% shooting, including 37.5% in the first half, and limited them to 7-for-27 on 3-point attempts.
“Believe me, there were a lot of positives about last night,” Izzo said. “That was not a bad team, that was a good team. ... I thought they had good talent, but we closed the water off (defensively) on a couple of those guys, and we did execute some things very well.”
And yet …
“It's just that turnovers are depressing, too,” he added. “For the coach, for the players, for the fans, for the media.”
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Tom Izzo: Michigan State basketball turnovers 'two-thirds' unforced