Michigan State has won two straight for the first time in nearly three weeks, but coach Tom Izzo wasn’t feeling great after a victory at Northwestern on Thursday.
The result was fine — a 76-45 triumph — but for a coach who has been pushing his team to play smarter, there was plenty to nit-pick at heading into Sunday’s home game against Rutgers.
The 15 turnovers Michigan State committed was front and center. Through 22 games, the Spartans are 321st in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio at minus-2.7. The issues Thursday were a departure from the last couple weeks as Michigan State averaged nine turnovers over three games.
“We had 15 turnovers and some were very casual and honestly, that’s disappointing,” Izzo said. “For our team to come out and play defense the way we did doesn’t add up to the casualness of some of the offensive turnovers.”
And, though his offensive numbers were impressive, Izzo was critical of senior guard Denzel Valentine.
“Valentine shot the ball well but he struggled a little bit in some areas,” Izzo added.
Valentine finished with 19 points, six rebounds and seven assists. But he also had six turnovers, with at least two passes missing badly.
And, guard Bryn Forbes took four shots.
“We’ve got to get Bryn into it, and to keep Bryn into it we need to keep Zel into it,” Izzo said.
All the heat, however, wasn’t on Valentine.
Michigan State had fouls creep in again. After losing at Wisconsin by a point and sending the Badgers to the free-throw line 36 times, the defense made marked improvement against Nebraska and Maryland.
Against Northwestern, however, the whistles were back and the Wildcats were in the bonus early both halves.
“That’s a concern,” Izzo said. “We cannot foul like we did, we can’t miss shot clocks like we did and we can’t turn the ball over. I don’t want to dampen a good win, but that is unexcusable. ... That is completely a lack of focus.”
Michigan State (18-4, 5-4 Big Ten) will have time to work out the kinks. After Rutgers — a team winless in the Big Ten — Michigan State has five days off before traveling to Michigan on Feb. 6.
“We’ve got to shore up (those mistakes),” Valentine said. “We got the win and it could have been a loss, but we’ve just got to shore up a few things. It was all mental and nothing physical.”