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Turnovers continue to mar otherwise strong start for Michigan State

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — One glance at Michigan State’s turnovers and the assumption would be the Spartans are off to a brutal start.

Michigan State ranks 306th in the nation in turnover rate, averaging 16.1 giveaways a game. The Spartans have twice turned it over 20 times. They’ve also given it up 19 times in each of their last two games, including Wednesday’s 73-64 victory over Louisville in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo watches the game during the second half.

“We did a lot of good things,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said, “but those turnovers are just something I'm going to keep working on.”

The work is hardly just beginning. It was clear from the opening game when Michigan State committed 16 turnovers in a loss to No. 3 Kansas at the Champions Classic that turnovers could be an issue. On that night, it kept the Spartans from potentially opening with a stunner.

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Two games later it was 20 turnovers at Butler as Michigan State still won by 21. Two games after that, it was another 20 turnovers against Loyola Chicago. That time, it nearly bit the Spartans. They had to score in the final seconds to pull out the win. Michigan State closed that tournament in the Bahamas with 19 turnovers against No. 4 Baylor in the championship game, one that got away in the second half.

In the Louisville win, one where Michigan State overcame 19 more turnovers, the Spartans still led by 20 late in the second half and cruised to victory.

“It’s hard to feel good when you turn it over 19 times when you work on it,” Izzo said. “There were like six in a row, it seemed like. … Somehow it has to fall on me so I'm going to take the blame for it, but we have to figure it out. If we can do this with 19 turnovers whether it's Kansas, whether it's Baylor, whether it's these guys — in other words, against quality teams — just think what we are going to be able to do if we quit turning the damn ball over.

“It is frustrating I'm sure for our fans, it's probably frustrating for our players and it's definitely frustrating for our coach.”

The frustration is shared among the players. They, too, see just how good they can be if they were able to take care of the ball.

“The coaches said it the other day, ‘You're not going to beat any high-level teams (turning it over),” junior forward Malik Hall said. “Louisville is a good team, but they're talking about top-five teams. Kansas, we had 20 turnovers. Baylor, we had 20 turnovers.

“You're not going to beat really good teams turning the ball over a lot. I think that's our next level we have to reach and mentally understand, that we can't turn the ball over that much against really great teams if we want to be a championship team.”

Michigan State (6-2) has plenty of encouraging pieces, pieces who could be the core of what might end up being a championship-level team by the end of the season.

The Spartans have been outstanding defensively, ranking second in the nation according to KenPom.com in defensive efficiency. For the bulk of Wednesday’s game, that made scoring a difficult task for Louisville.

They’re coming together offensively, as well. Gabe Brown has been consistently playing to his potential, Marcus Bingham is finally emerging as a consistent threat in the post and point guards Tyson Walker and A.J. Hoggard are slowly finding their own rhythm. Add in the glimpses of greatness from Max Christie, the steadiness of Hall and the ball of energy and potential that is Jaden Akins, and the Spartans are headed in the right direction.

“We are going to be a hell of a team, man,” Bingham said. “We're coming for everybody in the country. I feel like we (were) slept on. (Once) we clean a lot of the self-inflicted stuff up, I don't think teams will turn us over that much. I really feel like it's just us playing too fast, within myself and my teammates. I feel like that when we clean that up, we're going to be a hell of a team. I really feel that.”

Of course, it all only truly comes together if Michigan State figures out a way to quit giving the ball up. Against Louisville, the Spartans took only 49 shots, which was three more than they took against Baylor. They turned it over 19 times in each game. By comparison, Michigan State turned it over 10 times in a win over Eastern Michigan and took 68 shots.

“With us turning the ball over we're missing opportunities,” Hoggard said. “We had 19 turnovers today and that could have been 19 shots. We took 49 shots and we’re usually in the 68, 70 range. So, that took away opportunities of us getting shots up, our shooters — Max, Gabe, Joey (Hauser) — it took away from them getting shots. So, we have to that up.”

It’s easy to say, of course. When a player is missing shots, he shoots more. When he’s getting tired, he runs more. When he’s getting beaten physically, he gets stronger.

There’s no magic fix to turnovers, and that has Izzo, his staff and his players frustrated but not deterred. They see the good things happening, yet they understand what needs to happen.

“It’s a positive outlook, but I can't keep coming to you guys saying we got to clean it up,” Hoggard said. “We’ve got to do something about it.”

The Spartans, who host Toledo (6-1) on Saturday, insist they will. They are hearing their coach more now when he emphasizes making the smart play instead of the “home-run play.” And they see on film, too, the pointless giveaways like stepping out of bounds or throwing a lazy pass.

Izzo believes the fix is close, and when that happens, who knows what’s next.

“Happy where we are as far as the record, not happy as far as our play,” Izzo said. “But excited that I do believe what I see in practice, if we can correct just one thing — we don't even have to correct our shooting, just one thing — I think we will be a lot better and that's going to happen.

“I want it to happen sooner, the fans want it to happen sooner, media wants it to happen sooner, and this is one time, we are all on the same page.”

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @mattcharboneau