Bob Wojnowski, James Hawkins and Matt Charboneau break down MSU, UM reaching the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. The Detroit News
East Lansing — Forgive Tom Izzo if he wasn’t nitpicking Michigan State’s performance on Saturday night in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The second-seeded Spartans had just beaten No. 10 Minnesota by 20 points to advance to the Sweet 16, and considering it ended a three-year run of failing to get out of the first weekend of the tournament, Izzo was taking the rest of the night to simply enjoy it with his team.
But by the time Michigan State was rolling back into East Lansing on Sunday, there’s little doubt the game tape had been cued and the 22 turnovers the Spartans committed had come into focus.
“I thought we were very sloppy,” Izzo said after the 70-50 win in the East Region at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa. “The turnovers were borderline ridiculous. I almost had to take a check at halftime to see if we were color blind because we threw some right to them.”
It was the third time this season Michigan State (30-6) has turned the ball over 20 or more times in a game. It gave the ball up 24 times in a win over Texas in November and it lost the ball 24 times in a loss at Illinois in February.
Needless to say, it was the one glaring problem in a game Saturday that was otherwise one of Michigan State’s more complete games of the season. Six players scored nine or more points with the Spartans opening the game 13-for-16 shooting as they outrebounded the Golden Gophers, 45-19.
“We got a lot of ball out of a lot of different people,” Izzo said. “The turnovers make me not feel as good as I should feel, but I’ll put that in the back pocket for now because we’re going to Washington D.C. and playing in the Sweet 16 and I’m damn proud of it considering what this team has been through.”
That Sweet 16 matchup will take place on Friday from Capital One Arena against No. 3 LSU, which held on to beat Maryland in their second-round matchup on Saturday.
Another performance like the one against Minnesota will go a long way toward beating LSU (28-6), the SEC regular-season champion. However, committing that many turnovers won’t fly.
That’s why, late in the game against Minnesota, Izzo reiterated to his team as the regulars came to the bench, just how important valuing the ball will be moving forward.
“He wasn’t very happy, let’s leave it at that,” fifth-year senior Kenny Goins said with a smile. “Even he can’t be mad about a 20-point win and going on to the Sweet 16. Right now we’re all enjoying it, but we’ll talk more about it (Sunday).”
Turnovers have been an issue at various points throughout the season for Michigan State. The Spartans entered Saturday’s game averaging 12.7 turnovers a game and spent most of the season near the bottom of the Big Ten in that category. That number had dipped to 11 per game in the postseason and the task now will be getting it to a more manageable number by next weekend.
“I think it starts with me,” junior point guard Cassius Winston said. “I definitely have to be better, be more locked in, more focused. A couple turnovers I made I usually don’t make, so I set the tone for the team in that sense. If I take care of that sets it up for the team.”
Winston committed four turnovers against Minnesota while Goins had five. Those aren’t ideal numbers from two of the most important players on the floor, but there seems little doubt that fatigue could be an issue.
Winston entered the game averaging 31.8 minutes a game in the postseason while Goins was at 37 minutes. Add in Winston’s sore toe and the fact Michigan next round doesn’t start until Friday gives the tandem, as well as senior guard Matt McQuaid (35.5 minutes per game) a needed break.
“I’ll enjoy the day off whichever day we decide to take off,” Goins said. “My legs could use it.”
Counting last weekend’s Big Ten tournament, Michigan State played five games in nine days, something that almost caught up with Winston on Saturday.
“He was hurting,” Izzo said.
But Winston responded, scoring seven points in less than a minute to halt Minnesota’s attempt at a comeback.
“I'm just happy to be in the tournament grind and I knew it was going to be a grinder weekend, but I was OK in the games,” Winston said. “I made it through the games and I feel like I did pretty decent. Now we got some time to get back home, get some treatment and get a little rest and by next go-round I will be fully ready.”
Izzo knows he can count on the Big Ten Player of the Year, but he also understands even a short break could be critical at this point.
“We're going to have to get him some rest these next couple of days,” Izzo said. “At this high level when you're playing the teams you're playing, for what's at stake it's both mentally and physically grinding, you know, and I don't know, it was tough. Yet I was happy that Cassius answered the bell.”
NO. 2 MICHIGAN STATE vs. NO. 3 LSU
Tip-off: 7:09 p.m. Friday, Capital One Arena, Washington
Records: Michigan State 30-6; LSU 28-6
Next up: Winner faces No. 1 Duke or No. 4 Virginia Tech in the Elite Eight