The Detroit News’ Matt Charboneau breaks down three keys for Michigan State in Saturday’s game against Michigan at Crisler Center (noon, Fox/WJR 760, WWJ 950).
Take care of the ball
As Michigan State lamented its loss at home to Penn State on Tuesday, Tom Izzo went through most of the major statistical categories to see where his team stood. Most of the major categories looked good – points per game, field-goal percentage, field-goal percentage defense, assists. They all had the Spartans among the best in the Big Ten. However, one stood out on the other end of the spectrum – turnovers. Michigan State is dead last in the conference in turnover margin and is averaging 12.8 turnovers a game.
The Spartans gave it up 15 times against Penn State, leading to 21 points for the Nittany Lions. In the last meeting with Michigan, MSU lost it 16 times but the Wolverines managed just 11 points off those turnovers. A similar number of giveaways in this one and the Spartans will likely be explaining away another loss.
Avoid the slow start
This has been an issue primarily away from home, something that would have been hard to predict back in November when the Spartans went on the road and beat Seton Hall. Michigan State has started poorly in four straight road games after winning at Northwestern in December, with three resulting in losses, one a blowout at Purdue. MSU opened the Wisconsin game 3-for-12 and was just 5-for-22 at halftime, while it started 2-for-11 at Purdue and made only one of its first nine shots at Indiana.
Even at Minnesota, a game the Spartans won going away, included a poor start matched only by one for the Gophers. Each slow start outside of the Minnesota game allowed the home crowd to start buzzing early. That won’t be a problem in this matchup, but an early double-digit lead for the Wolverines will be tough to overcome.
Finish the deal
Take the Purdue game out of this one. Michigan State played its worst game and the Boilermakers were on fire. Not much was going to change that outcome. But the losses to Indiana and Wisconsin were both games Michigan State rebounded and put itself in position to win. The Spartans battled back to take a three-point lead in the second half at Indiana before turnovers crept in and allowed the Hoosiers a chance to gather themselves and pull out the win. At Wisconsin, MSU was within three before the layups for Xavier Tillman stopped dropping and the momentum of a 17-2 dissipated quickly in the final minutes.
Even with the poor starts, Michigan State has put itself in position for some big road wins, but still found ways to lose. If the Spartans get in that spot again, they’ll need to figure out a way to make winning plays in crunch time.