The 2009-10 Michigan State basketball team returned five perimeter players who played significant minutes in the 2008-09 season:
- An All-American candidate point guard.
- Arguably the most talented back-up point guard in the Big Ten.
- Three upperclassmen wing players who have each played in at least ten high-pressure national-profile college basketball games.
Those five players combined for 20 turnovers tonight.
Texas is a very good defensive basketball team--the best in the nation to date according to the numbers--but their only statistical weakness/nonstrength is generating turnovers on defense. Opponents had turned the ball over on a mundane 19.8% of possesions coming into this game. MSU beat that by 10 percentage points: 29.7%.
Texas does post steals with frequency (13.9%), but only 8 of MSU's 20 turnovers tonight were the result of Longhorn steals. The majority of the turnovers were simply the result of getting flustered and making bad decisions with the ball against aggressive on-the-ball defense. Rick Barnes recognized and implemented the defensive game plan that's worked against this team so far this season: force them out of their comfort zone on the perimeter. The moments when the Spartans made Texas pay for its defensive overplays to create easy baskets going toward the hoop were few and far between.
MSU shot the ball well enough (5-7 on 3-pointers in the first half) to stay even with the Longhorns for the first 30 minutes of the game. But giving the ball away on nearly 1 out of 3 possessions eventually catches up with you (and 1-8 three-point shooting in the second half didn't help).
Defensively, MSU wasn't terrible. They didn't have many major defensive breakdowns leading to layups/dunks and they blocked out very well on the defensive glass. But you also have to chalk some of Texas' struggles to (1) Dexter Pittman playing only 12 minutes due to a couple borderline foul calls against him (can't pin this loss on Ed Hightower), neutralizing Texas' main offensive rebounding force, and (2) very poor free throw shooting (8-19). MSU had no answer for Damion James (23 points on 10-18 FG shooting), and Green, Roe, and Morgan all picked up 3+ fouls trying to stop Texas from scoring around the basket.
Texas converted 25 of 41 two-point shooting attempts (61.0%)--with a number of those 2-point conversions coming off MSU turnovers--and Jordan Hamilton provided some huge 3-point baskets for the Longhorns (14 points, 4-6 from beyond the arc). At the end of 40 minutes, 79 points for Texas in 74 possessions were quite sufficient to win this game.
Player bullets (official box score is here):
Draymond Green's assist-turnover ratio: 4-0. The rest of the team's assist-turnover ratio: 8-22. Day Day has to learn to stay in games by keeping his aggressiveness in check, though. He picked up his second foul midway through the first half on an overzealous double team. That would end up limiting him to 19 minutes in the game. Brilliant play to draw a charge on Pittman for his 4th foul.
- Kalin Lucas struggled early and struggled often: 3-11 from the field, 6 turnovers. He made some good plays late in the game, though, when he put his head down against pressure and got into the lane. Why not tell him to do that from the get-go against heavy pressure on the perimeter?
- Delvon Roe played well tonight: 8 points on 4-4 FT shooting, 6 rebounds, 2 assists. He was aggressive when he got the ball near the basket.
- Raymar Morgan was good early, but finished with only 8 points and 4 rebounds in 29 minutes. Faded after a couple back-to-back plays late in the first half that had him sitting next to on the bench. First pouting session of the year; hopefully, it's not a pattern.
- Chris Allen shot the ball well (12 points on 8 FGA) but made some poor decisions with the ball (5 turnovers). Better than shooting the ball poorly and making poor decisions with the ball, I guess.
- Same deal for Korie Lucious: 10 points on 4 FGA, 4 turnovers. Spinning into double-teams does not end well.
- I give Durrell Summers credit for continuing to shoot the ball with confidence even after struggling early. Managed to cobble together 11 points on 13 FGA. Made a couple very agile plays on defense.
- Derrick Nix played confidently during his 12 minutes on the court, scoring 4 points on 2-4 shooting. It's quite possible that a couple years from now Nix will be drawing the same sort of accolades Pittman is drawing now.
With just one game remaining in the nonconference slate, it sure feels like the results to date have been about as disappointing as could have plausibly been anticipated for a team ranked #2 in the nation in the preseason polls. Losses in all three non-home games against quality opponents. A home win against a fourth quality opponent that was just barely procured after a horrid first-half performance. Three offensive turnover percentages above 25% in those four games. (And Florida lost to another unranked opponent tonight, so that's looking less and less like a "quality loss.")
I don't have any great solutions (and if a know-it-all blogger doesn't have any solutions, who does?), but until the turnover issues are resolved the ceiling on this team's performance is pretty low. A #4 seed in the NCAA Tournament seems like the best-case scearnio at this point. And, even then, a loss to the first team with enough talent to play aggressive defense against us for 40 minutes would be a pretty likely outcome (ala the blowout loss to Memphis in 2008).
After one more nonconference gimme, there are 18 Big Ten games on the schedule during which to get it figured out.
Up Next: A long holiday-weekend layoff to mull this one over. UT-Arlington visits the Breslin Center at 7:00 next Wednesday (BTN).
P.S. Tom Izzo doing what a good coach does, talking his team up when they're down:
"It was a good game," Izzo said. "The place was great. I love playing here. Rick’s a good friend and I think he’s got a Final Four-type team. There’s more encouraging (than discouraging) coming out of Michigan State coming out of this game."
I, for one, am having a hard time finding the encouraging side of things right now.