So we all remember how unbelievably bad our Spartans were at holding on to the ball last season. They gave the ball up on 26.0% of offensive possessions in conference play–worst among any major conference team in either 2006 or 2007. This deficiency was the one thing that held MSU back from being a truly elite offensive team, as they were pretty good at shooting the ball and very good and rebounding it.
Through the first five games of the season, this propensity to cough the ball up didn’t appear to have resolved itself over the offseason. MSU put up offensive TO percentages over 23.0% in four of their first five contests. Since then, I’ve noted that their dismal ranking in this category has slowly improved. So I thought I’d look at the trend in MSU’s offensive TO% over the nonconference season:
As you can see, their performance has clearly improved since the first five games. They’ve kept their offensive TO% under 21.0% in 6 of the subsequent 7 games–including the microscopic 8.8% vs. Texas. (Note to self: Figure out why my calculations–which arrived at 10.4% for the Texas game–differ slightly from kenpom’s.) For the season, MSU’s offensive TO% now stands at 20.7%, good for 106th in the nation (in roughly the top 3rd of Division 1 teams).
Who, in particular, has reduced their turnovers? Basically everyone. But here are the biggest improvements:
- Gray: 2.8 TO/G in the first five games; 1.1 TO/G in the last seven games
- Lucas: 2.6; 1.6
- Suton: 2.0; 1.1
- Walton: 2.0; 1.4
- Summers: 1.6; 1.0
(Sorry to resort to conventional stats–but calculating individual tempo-free stats on a game-by-game basis is a bit too arduous.)
So both the primary ball-handlers on the perimeter (Lucas/Walton) and both the scoring threats on the inside (Suton/Gray) have improved substantially. Players are getting comfortable in their roles and running the offense the way Izzo has designed it. (The one guy who’s still turning it over pretty frequently is Raymar Morgan–2.4 TO/G in both sets of games. Giving everything else he’s doing, though, I think we can live with this.)
A piece of this trend may be due to the opponents they’ve played. Missouri is very good at creating turnovers; NC State is not good at all. But the trend is too distinct not to represent real progress. If MSU can maintain a TO% of 20.0% rather than 25.0%, that’s an extra 3.5 scoring opportunites per game in a 70-possession game, which translates to 4-5 points the way MSU shoots and rebounds. That’s the difference between a good team and a great one.
While I had the Excel template set up, I thought I’d go ahead and look at defensive TO%, too. I didn’t expect the results to be nearly as dramatic–but they are:
Historically, MSU has not created a lot of turnovers. Izzo wants them to play solid man-to-man defense, force a tough shot, and get the rebound. Through the first five games, MSU was not creating a lot of turnovers. Their defensive TO% was below 20.0% in all five games. In the following seven games, they’ve been above 20.0% five times–including two games at 30.0% or above.
Part of this trend is simply a matter of how few turnovers they created in the first five games (sort of like bowling a bad score the first time out to increase your handicap). And there aren’t any IPFWs or San Jose States left on the schedule. But the Spartans are showing the ability to use their depth and quickness to harass the other team into giving the ball up. These two players, in particular, have stepped it up on defense:
- Walton: 0.2 steals/G in the first five games; 1.6 steals/G in the last seven
- Morgan: 0.4; 1.3
If MSU can sustain both these trends, they are going to be extremely formidable in conference play and beyond. There are few teams in the country that can keep up with MSU if the Spartans are taking shots on 80%+ of their possessions and grabbing 40%+ of the shots they miss. And a hounding perimeter defense that creates turnovers and wears down the opposition could be the frosting on the cake.
Bonus Random Stat: MSU currently ranks dead last in the nation (341st) in 3-point attempts as a percentage of FG attempts. Notably, UNC is also in the bottom ten. The Spartans and Tar Heels prove you don’t have to jack up a lot of 3-pointers to have a high-powered offense. The the two teams rank 7th and 3rd, respectively, in kenpom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric.