Turnovers have been a concern for Michigan State for a number of years, but coach Tom Izzo still has been able to guide it through successful times.
He doesn't seem so sure he can do that without drastic improvement this season.
After some unexpected close calls at home, the No. 13 Spartans hit the road to face Miami in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge on Wednesday night.
Michigan State hasn't finished better than eighth in the Big Ten in average turnovers per game over the last six years, though the Spartans have made two Final Four appearances in that span and earned a No. 1 seed in last season's NCAA tournament.
Izzo's teams have been known to get better as the season progresses, but he seems especially frustrated with the amount of giveaways despite Michigan State's 5-1 record.
The Spartans committed 67 turnovers over a four-game homestand against marginal competition, including 20 in each of their last two. After routing Texas Southern on Nov. 18, they squeaked past Boise State 74-70 last Tuesday before pulling away late in a 70-52 win over Oakland on Friday.
Michigan State then committed 14 second-half turnovers and survived a 63-60 scare against Louisiana-Lafayette on Sunday.
"I think our guys are going to be great citizens when they get done with basketball, because the Christmas season is lasting all year,'' Izzo said. "They're giving gifts away."
The Spartans are averaging a conference-worst 16.5 turnovers - their most since averaging 16.0 in 1996-97. Travis Trice has missed the last five games with a concussion and freshman standout Gary Harris has been out since spraining his shoulder in the opening minutes against Boise State, but both could return Wednesday.
"I don't like the way our team is at all,'' Izzo said. "I'm just trying to figure how much of it is due to our preparation or lack thereof with the guys who are injured. But that doesn't have anything to do with some of my key guys turning it over four or five times.''
Keith Appling committed four turnovers Sunday, but he's also averaging a team-best 16.8 points. Izzo said he's the only Spartan currently playing well, but Appling knows he also needs to improve.
"We have to change our mindset and know that we have to take care of the ball,'' Appling said. "Once the Big Ten season starts, those turnovers will lead to large deficits that we probably won't be able to overcome.''
Miami coach Jim Larranaga, though, still foresees a tough challenge.
"The areas (Izzo) feels he needs to have his team focus on to improve, he's going to improve it," said Larranaga, whose last game against Izzo was George Mason's upset of the Spartans during its improbably run to the 2006 Final Four. "We're not a team that forces a lot of turnovers, so it's not going to be all of the sudden we're going to be emphasizing that we need to force a bunch of turnovers."
The Hurricanes (3-1) are coming off a 77-62 victory over Detroit on Saturday behind 15 points apiece from Shane Larkin and Durand Scott. Kenny Kadji added 14 and 11 rebounds for his second double-double.
Wednesday marks the first meeting between Michigan State and Miami.
- Sports & Recreation
- Tom Izzo