As much as he would like to avoid it, turnovers are becoming a consistent problem for head coach Tom Izzo. And on Sunday, they almost became a much bigger problem.
The No. 15 MSU basketball team turned the ball over 20 times against Louisiana-Lafayette, including five times in the final four minutes, but still managed to squeak out a 63-60 victory at Breslin Center. The sloppy affair comes just two days after the team turned the ball over 20 times against Oakland in what Izzo described as the worst game the two teams ever played against one another.
With the turnover problem becoming an increasing concern, not to mention a potential barrier of success for a perennial NCAA Tournament team, Izzo said changes will have to be made.
“If there is anything we can do, it is not two of our key guys giving the ball over at will,” Izzo said. “When they start turning over from the very first minute of the game, you tell certain guys the same thing day after day. We are going to start sitting guys and that’s very disappointing, so don’t overwrite anybody, don’t over applaud anybody.”
Against the Ragin’ Cajuns, the team had four players with at least four turnovers, including a team-high five turnovers by Denzel Valentine — a growing hazard with the freshman guard.
Although dazzling fans with his crafty passes and his ability to make the big play with his passing game, it’s the same passes that continually are getting him in trouble. Valentine is tied with junior guard Keith Appling for the team lead with 15 turnovers, albeit in 68 fewer minutes.
“I think (Valentine) is going to be a great player someday,” Izzo said. “If, and that’s a big two letter word, if he quits playing the game like the game doesn’t matter. I mean it has just been a problem with turnovers the whole year.
“He is a very gifted and skilled guy and I have been amazed that he hasn’t, when you make the same mistakes two times, then three, and four. I think any coach is going to question that.”
As he continues to mature into a starting role on the team in the absence of fellow freshman guard Gary Harris, Valentine realizes the criticism is warranted and he wants to make the necessary adjustments with his game.
“I just need to focus in more and not turn the ball over — it’s as simple as that,” Valentine said. “It’s no pressure; just don’t turn the ball over.”
But the problem isn’t exclusive to Valentine.
As a team, the Spartans average 16.5 turnovers per game and have struggled to maintain possession of the ball during critical stretches of games, which has been attributed to sloppy play and high fatigue.
Upon hearing his coach’s criticism on Sunday, sophomore guard Branden Dawson said the problem comes down to taking control and tightening up multiple aspects of their game.
The Spartans take another shot at holding on to the basketball starting Wednesday against Miami in Florida (7:30 p.m., ESPN). And for Dawson, the opportunity can’t come soon enough.
“We just have to keep control of the ball and stop turning it over,” Dawson said. “We’re averaging about 17 (turnovers) on the season right now and that’s not good.”