Monday, April 6, 2009

8 Mile

Since the last time Michigan State was in the Final Four in 2005, turnovers have been a source of major frustration. The turnover rate for Spartan teams has always stayed above 20.5, and has even hit such heights as 24.2% in 2006-07. Frankly, it's been the one thing that has held back Izzo's offenses, and even with them they have been pretty good. On Saturday night, UConn learned an important lesson - if you don't turn the Spartans over, they will score a lot of points. In a 75 possession game, Michigan State had its highest scoring output since December, prevailing 82-73. Raymar Morgan was active, scoring 18 points on 13 shots, to go with 9 rebounds. Box score.

Tom Izzo's team only had 11 turnovers in this game (good for a rate under 15% in this fast-paced contest), and quite a bit of that is part of the design of UConn's defense. The Huskies don't take chances trying to get steals, because they know that with their shotblocking monster, it doesn't really matter if the team gets a shot off...for most teams. Unfortunately, that strategy breaks down when facing good offensive rebounding teams. The Huskies haven't lost a game where the opponent has rebounded less than 35% of its misses. They also haven't won a game where the opponent has rebounded more than 40%. MSU fell into the latter category on Saturday.

The same kind of formula is true for Michigan State and turnovers. The Spartans have only lost a single game where their TO Rate was below 19.0 - a game in which the Ohio State Buckeyes shot 56% from 3. Where the TO Rate is 25.0 or higher, the Spartans are 2-3 (one of those losses being against UNC).

Of course, Michigan State is now staring down at those same Tar Heels that dismantled them on the same floor just months earlier. It's hard to break that game down because so many things went wrong for the Spartans - you don't know what needs to be fixed first. Given the fact that it took place over 4 months ago, maybe the best thing to do is to ignore it. Let's face it - it was a much-hyped game, and the Spartans just choked. And even though they have won an outright conference championship and beaten the best of the Big East handily on their way to the championship game, not many have forgotten that performance. So sure, label the Spartans the underdog. Yes, they did lose to Penn State and Northwestern at their own house. Maryland did spank them on a neutral court in front of Mickey Mouse. They do turn it over too much for no good reason, their preseason MVP was sick and hurt all season, their marksman does shoot only 33% from three, and the Big Ten wasn't as good as the ACC. But they're still standing, hoping to put on a show. The question is whether UNC can tell us anything about this team we already don't know.

Tonight, 8:20 PM, Central Time. And don't worry, in the recap, I promise not to rhyme.

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