Sunday Drive: Michigan State 73, Tennessee Tech 55

A 26-point lead before the walk-ons took over in the last couple minutes, nine players getting 17+ minutes, more lights-out Spartan shooting, the prodigal big man back in the fold.  It's all good, right?  Well, not all of it:

Izzo: The turnovers and missed FTs not very encouraging going into Wednesday (against Duke).

Izzo: This team doesn't have an appreciation for turnovers.

Izzo: If this team doesn't respect turnovers (against Duke), we'll get embarrassed.

Sensing a theme?  Both statistically and stylistically, turnovers were the glaring problem this afternoon.  Visual depiction of the statistical part after the jump:

 

MSU's turnover percentage bar looks smaller than it should due to the team's stellar field goal percentages (54.8% on twos, 41.7% on threes).  But 24.3% doesn't cut it against an opponent that plays mediocre-to-bad defense and shows no statistical predilection toward creating turnovers.  TTU showed some token pressure at times, but most of MSU's turnovers were of the no-particular-reason-why variety.  Six different Spartans turned the ball over at least twice, led by Korie Lucious, who turned it over twice early on very sloppy plays and finished the game with 4 giveaways.

I can forgive MSU's slow start.  They're no doubt still dealing with some jetlag (the long flight back caused Draymond Green's back to tighten up, btw), and the Izzoneless crowd was quiet enough I could hear the officials on the floor talking all the way up in my top-row seats at one point.  But the decisionmaking with the ball simply has to get crisper.  To harp on something it seems like I've spent my entire blogging career harping on: Turnovers committed in the act of trying to create a scoring opportunity are unfortunate but acceptable.  Turnovers committed in the act of trying to make routine basketball plays are simply costly.

Elsewhere in the numbers, the MSU defense forced the TTU shooters into tough looks all game, holding them to 33.3% shooting inside the arc.  Golden Eagle guard Zach Bailey hit a few tough 3-point looks late to keep the margin respectable, but TTU only got off 9 three-point attempts on the game.

MSU's rebounding was very good on defense (21.1%) and very subpar on offense (24.2%).  Green's perimeter playmaking is providing a new twist to keep opposing defenses off balance, but it's also pulling him away from the basket more (although he did still manage a team-high 2 offensive boards today).  The team's starting big men--Delvon Roe and Garrick Sherman--combined for just 1 offensive rebound today.  That number will need to go up significantly in the future when the team's shots may not be falling so smoothly.

This was a 70-possession game.  The defense was fine.  The offense, not so much--particularly in light of the very good shooting numbers.

Your three stars:

  • Durrell Summers was strokin' it (and dunkin' it): 21 points on just 11 FGA.
  • Garrick Sherman continued his aggressive play down low, scoring 6 points on 3-4 shooting.  Unfortunately, he also has a case of that contagious MSU post player affliction at the free throw line: The Longsies.  Draymond tried to get him off the hook at the line at one point in the second half but the officials foiled the plan (after Green had already knocked down the first free throw).
  • I gotta go with Green for the third star: Team highs in both rebounds (9) and assists (6).  It's only a matter of time before he pulls off a triple-double.  He only played a few minutes at the 3 spot today.  On balance, I think MSU is better off when he's playing the 4--both on defense and on offense, where he can pull opposing power forwards outside or drive by them in transition.  It's a mismatch either way, but getting the ball to him near the paint against a smaller defender is a tougher thing to do on a consistent basis.

Derrick Nix was back with the team.  He didn't play in the first half, but flashed those quick hands in the second half, recording 3 steals in just 5 minutes.  Tom Izzo isn't going out of his way to spare Nix's feelings, basically laying the UConn loss at his feet (which I think is a little harsh--his presence would certainly have been helpful but MSU was also in pretty good position to win that game without him).  Still, if Nix is willing to work hard, he'll be a key factor in at least a couple big wins at some point over the next four months.

One more Izzo quote:

Playing at a high level every game separates elite teams from good teams. We're not there.

That's good coach talk.  It's also sound statistical theory.  Teams that consistently put away weaker opponents tend to be more successful against good opposition in the long run.  Six games in, MSU hasn't showed any real consistency outside of shooting the ball.  There's certainly still plenty of time for it to happen, but, even with Tom Izzo at the helm and a roster containing as much talent as any MSU squad since at least 2001, there's no guarantee it will.  There's another six games of noconference play, none of it to be played under the influence of time-zone changes, to get the talent to gel and the statistical patterns to flatten out at a topflight level.

Up next: You know them, you loathe them, the Duke Blue Devils!  9:30 p.m., Wednesday night (ESPN) in the final pairing of Big Ten-ACC Challenge games.  I'll give you one guess what the "Key to the Game" will be in Tuesday night's game preview . . .

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