The Jayhawks (literally) gave the Michigan State game away
The worst part about the Sweet 16 loss for the Kansas Jayhawks has to be that they weren’t beaten by the Michigan State Spartans.
Instead, the Jayhawks were beaten by themselves.
Remember this blog? In it, I tried to go through and pick out the best matchups for KU in each round.
Lo and behold, the best matchup I came up for KU in the Sweet 16 was — you guessed it — Michigan State.
There was one main reason for this: Michigan State’s defense doesn’t force many turnovers.
Hey, we all knew that turnovers were an Achilles’ heel for KU. After watching the Jayhawks turn it over 27 times against Missouri, we knew the Jayhawks might have a tough go of things if they reverted to their careless ways.
And that’s why the matchup against Michigan State was perfect. The Spartans are not a team that forces turnovers. As KU coach Bill Self said after the game, “Michigan State plays great defense. But they’re not a pressure defensive team.”
Yet, KU still turned it over.
Let’s take a look at the numbers. MSU came into the game forcing turnovers on 19.9 percent of their opponents’ possessions. That ranked 192nd nationally. The national average for defensive turnover percentage is 20.4 percent.
Now, let’s look at the Spartans’ top turnover-percentage defensive performances from the 2008-09 season.
1. Kansas (March 27) 31.5 percent
2. Idaho 30.4 percent
3. Indiana (Feb. 7) 28.2 percent
4. The Citadel 25.7 percent
5. Illinois (Jan. 17) 24.3 percent
So let’s put this in perspective: In Michigan State’s 36-game schedule, KU had the highest turnover percentage against the Spartans. That means the Jayhawks turned it over more frequently against MSU than teams like Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne, Alcorn State, The Citadel and Oakland.
KU’s 19 turnovers were the second-most forced by MSU all season (Idaho had 22, but the Vandals also had more possessions than KU).
Here’s another way to look at it: MSU’s turnover-percentage defense was extremely similar to that of Texas. The Longhorns forced turnovers on 19.8 percent of their opponents’ possessions, putting them at 193rd nationally (just one spot behind MSU).
Against UT, KU had just 10 turnovers — giving it away on 13.4 percent of its possessions.
Playing against two teams with nearly identical turnover-forcing defenses just 20 days apart, the Jayhawks had their turnover percentage go up by nearly 20 percent.
Here’s the painful part: Every miscue cost KU points.
A team’s adjusted efficiency number tells us approximately how many points a team scores per 100 possessions. KU ended up at 113.8, which means the Jayhawks scored roughly 1.138 points per possession throughout the course of the season.
Against MSU, that number wasn’t nearly as high (93.1), but remember, that number is affected by a high turnover count.
The Jayhawks had 67 possessions and 19 turnovers against the Spartans. Let’s take out the turnovers. That leaves 48 non-turnover possessions.
That means the Jayhawks scored 62 points in 48 non-turnover possessions. Divide the two, and it tells us that each possession KU at least attempted a shot, it scored approximately 1.29 points.
See where I’m going with this?
If MSU would have gotten its season average in turnovers (19.8 percent), KU would have turned it over 13 times (I rounded down here from 13.2 to 13). With those six extra possessions, the Jayhawks would have scored approximately 7.74 more points.
Voila. If everything else stays the same and MSU has a typical day forcing turnovers, KU comes away with a 70-67 win.
Let’s look at it from KU’s perspective. The Jayhawks, over the course of the season, averaged turnovers on 21.5 percent of possessions (a relatively high number). With 67 possessions, the Jayhawks would have turned it over 14 times (I rounded from 14.4 to 14).
The Jayhawks, then, would have scored 6.45 more points. Though it’s closer, KU still comes away with a 68-67 victory.
In the first game against MSU, KU turned it over at a 15.7-percent clip.
If the Jayhawks had kept the same number in the second game, they would have had 11 turnovers (rounded up from 10.5) and would have had 10.32 more points, good for a 72-67 triumph.
One more. Let’s go back to the Texas game. If the Jayhawks (against a similar turnover-forcing team) had turned it over at a 13.4-percent rate like they did against the Longhorns, they would have had nine turnovers, 10 more possessions and 12.9 extra points.
Suddenly, KU’s five-point loss turns into to an eight-point win.
So what caused KU’s high turnover count? From my view, the Jayhawks’ younger players looked awfully nervous.
That, to me, was unexpected. Remember these speeches from last year’s Final Four?
I figured Self would deliver a similar “relax and go have fun” or “we have nothing to lose” speech before the MSU game. The Spartans were the ones that had expectations and had reason to be nervous, not the Jayhawks. KU, by all accounts, should have been the looser of the two teams.
Instead, to me, it looked like the Jayhawks tightened up. Players like Tyshawn Taylor, Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar probably passed up a few outside shots that they should have taken.
With an attempted shot, three positive things can happen: the shot can go in, you can get fouled and go to the free-throw line or your team can get the rebound. At worst, you probably won’t get beat by transition baskets.
In the end, a bad shot is better than any turnover.
I’d expect the Jayhawks, a year older and wiser, will understand this better in 2009-10.