For the next month or so, our friends at The Mag are previewing one high-profile school per day for their Summer Buzz series. For the sake of all that is synergistic, yours truly will be attempting the same, complementing each comprehensive Insider preview with some adjusted efficiency fun. Today's subject: Michigan State. Up next? Ohio State.
How unlikely was the Spartans' 2009-10 NCAA tournament run? The Spartans were the only team in the Final Four ranked outside the top 20 in overall adjusted efficiency. Tom Izzo's team wasn't dominant on either end of the floor, but they were a Tom Izzo team through and through. They rebounded well on both ends of the floor, they guarded well enough to force opponents' misses, they kept their opposition off the free throw line, and they found ways to win close games. And somehow, with Kalin Lucas stuck on the sideline thanks to injury, the Spartans made it back to the precipice of another NCAA title. It was, all things considered, a remarkable run.
2010-11 is a different story. Lucas will be back from injury, as will pretty much everyone on the team not named Raymar Morgan. The Spartans will add top talent in the form of a No. 10-ranked recruiting class. This year, a Final Four wouldn't just be a nice bonus. It's a legitimate expectation.
Whether or not the Spartans can replicate their late-season success in 2010-11 might come down to a stat that has haunted Michigan State teams in the past five years: turnovers.
Last year, the Spartans gave the ball away far too frequently. Michigan State gave the ball away on 21.3 percent of their possessions, good enough to rank them in the bottom half of all Division I teams in turnover percentage. On the defensive side of the ball, Michigan State was even worse; MSU opponents turned the ball over on 18.7 percent of their possessions in 2009-10.
This has become something of a pattern for recent Michigan State teams, even good ones. 2005 was the last year the Spartans had a turnover rate that ranked them in the top 100 of all Division I teams. Since then, Michigan State has been plagued by the turnover bug -- or, on defense, the lack thereof -- in varying forms each year.
With Lucas returning in 2010-11, the Spartans should improve. Lucas' turnover rate in 2009-10 was 18.4 percent. After his injury, Lucas was replaced by backup point guard Korie Lucious, who gave the ball away 27.7 percent of the time. Lucious was a capable backup in a variety of ways, but his proclivity for turning the ball over played right into the Spartans' main weakness.
Lucious will have to improve individually if he wants to split time with Lucas, and the Spartans as a whole will have to get better, lest an incredibly promising season be derailed by the one deficiency that seems to come back and haunt Izzo's teams each and every year. The 2010-11 Spartans are loaded -- they have veteran experience, returning talent and should be able to make up for the loss of Raymar Morgan (an underrated player in his own right, especially on the defensive end) without missing a beat. The makings of a great team are all in place. Now they just have to cut down on those turnovers.