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.


Blake Brown 13 years, 4 months ago

Interesting evaluation of TOs and there effect on the outcome. One thing about the TO stat I dont like is that they are always considered "forced" when in fact, many are are unforced, especially in the Jayhawks case. It is sometimes difficult to judge whether the error was caused or due to the defense, but we have seen too many terrible passes, failure to meet the ball, leaving the feet and no where to go, charging into to the defense when there was clearly no path, etc. We excelled as a team in lazy and sloppy play and yet were good enough to win most of our games. It is easy to look back at our losses and see where our errors of commission and omission cost us the game.

I do agree with the conclusion of the article, next year we should be a lot better in this area. I`m ready for the season now, but will have to rely on recordings of key games this year to carry me through. We should be special. I can hardly wait. Go Hawks!!

pmohr13 13 years, 4 months ago

let's hope they will, I'm looking forward to next year

kansaspike 13 years, 4 months ago

If we hit shots from the outside (T. Reed, B. Morningstar) things would not have been so forced, especially from Sherron.

Bring on 2009-2010!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

chicagoeddie 13 years, 4 months ago

This is what i tell all the MSU fans at my work who are talking smack. We LOST the game, you didnt win it.... NExt year is going to be fun!

jncarlsbad 13 years, 4 months ago

I think we all have to remember that this team was not suppose to be in the Sweet 16. They showed this as they gave the game away. If your open, take the shot but no one wanted to. You have to go for it and not sit back in this type of game. They were very nervous! KU played with everything they had but just didn't have the right mindset/confidence to win this one.

This team will be more experienced next year and with Whitney, Robinson, and hopefully Stephenson (check out him against OJ Mayo on youtube) we will be hard to beat if the key role players stay. Self is recruiting like a MF.

KUball14 13 years, 4 months ago

From the speech clips:

"You came to Kansas to play in this game"

Damn right baby

d_prowess 13 years, 4 months ago

You know, I am a little tired of people bringing up how we need to remember that this team was not supposed to be in the Sweet 16! (no offense jncalsbad)
We were in the Sweet 16 and we did give the game away with poor play. The poor play wouldn't bother me if I had not seen this team play better than it did against MSU. So sure you can say we all didn't see this coming at the beginning of the year, but it happened and we let it slip away. Predictions are garbage unless they come true and this year they were wrong...

Rock_Chalk_NYC 13 years, 4 months ago

Great article Jesse.... you're exactly right! We gave this one away, that's what makes this loss so frustrating and angering!

That said, I'm already looking forward to next year, would be great to see one "Born Ready" at the 3 spot! No disrespect to Brady either. He did such a great job this year and I couldn't be more impressed with how he played throughout the year and his vast improvement. (I know, everyone is going to say, what about the tournament... yeah, ok)

Rock Chalk!

P.S. "Only" 5 Months til KU Football kicks off!

jncarlsbad 13 years, 4 months ago

I am saying this as a positive. I personally didn't think a team with no starters from the previous year could win the Big 12 and go to the Sweet 16, and they did! They surprised the hell out of me! However, the team turns the ball over way too much and that goes back to being young. Next year this team will be much more balanced. I can't wait for next year with all the new recruits!

jncarlsbad 13 years, 4 months ago

KU is the Real Deal and they always will be! I see Final Four in our future next year!

Michael Wattai 13 years, 4 months ago

2 things I would like to point out:

  1. Good teams play better in tourney games. In this case, Izzo made the necessary adjustments at halftime. MSU played to win in the second half, KU did not. Age and treachery beat youth and inexperience every time.
  2. I never root for any other team in the ncaa's because it always seems that the team I root for ends up beating KU. In other words, be careful what you wish for.

yovoy 13 years, 4 months ago

yeah, the "young" card is completely played-out.

we lost, against a big 10 team! sure they won their league (didn't they?), but we'd played like a big 10 team most of the time since we beat ou. that's to say that we stood around watching guards dribble around while the bigs leaned, banged, picked, scraped, etc until the shot clock got to :10 or so, then did didn't execute. if we'd played msu any time, any place, for the two months from early jan. to early march, we'd've beaten them by 15+.

in a tourney format where you get 4 to 6 (or less in big 10-style) possessions between timeouts, you darn well better execute and/or get up and down the floor, and/or speed the other team up. with msu crashing so hard, you have to respect it, but you have to exploit it too. we didn't seem the least bit interested in doing any of that. n.c.o.y.m.a!

we made them nice and comfortable playing the style of ball they play for 20+ games/yr in league.

after ou, we reverted to "jacque vaughn" jayhawk bb: stand around and watch the guard poundpoundpound the ball. fun. i lost interest in this team after the ou game because of the noticeable shift (and after going to the big 10 tourney and watching t. battle turn his team into a team that looked lots like the team of my alma mater).

in the 4 games we had between ou and the start of the ncaa tourney we were 2-2, or to put it bluntly we were 4-3 over our last 7, and we were lucky to have been more talented than our 1st 2 opponents in the tourney.

my biggest fear is that next year teams will use our ineptitude at running an actual offense to get us into a "grind-it" game, where we play like a mid-level big 10 team, instead of the best team in the big 12 since the birth of the league. that's not to say that we need to take the ball out of sherron's hands, but it struck me as kind of silly to announce so early and publicly that this was "his team". it's much easier to thwart a uni-directional attack, than it is a multi-directional one.

young or not, somewhere, somehow, we lost our hunger, and it seems like no one cared enough to right the ship. instead of being "good", we were satisfied being "good enough", and we weren't when it counted.

Larry Smith 13 years, 4 months ago


In order for there to be a "multi-directional attack, there needs to be multiple directions for it to come from. If you didn't notice, in the tourney when there were opportunities for those other directions to step up, they really did not seem up to the challenge. I trust that when Coach Self says that it all needs to flow thru the uni-direction, then thats what needed to happen. It scares me to think of what the season may have been like, had the team really had to depend night in and night out on those other directions for scoring.

Now, next year with some experience under their belts and more familiarity with the game plan as well as the process, those other directions will be more heavily relied upon.

d_prowess 13 years, 4 months ago

Please explain the "Jacque Vaughn" jayhawk basketball comment some more?!?! Didn't the Vaughn years have some of the highest scoring levels ever at KU? All I remember is us racing down the court, passing the ball quickly, and trying to score as fast as we could. Am I not remembering this time period right?!

milehighhawk 13 years, 4 months ago

yovoy -

Geez, not sure where to start - that rant was a

We were the 9th youngest team in Division One this year, so I'm not sure how you can say "the young card is played out."

And what in the world was that Jacque Vaughn comment? Get a clue.

jrbill67 13 years, 4 months ago

Self's the best coach this program has ever had & he proved it this year by going further, with less, than any coach that preceded him. What team loses 5 starters & 6 of the 8 man rotation, wins the Big 12, and goes to the Sweet Sixteen with the tenth youngest team in D1? Collins was great this year & will make better decisions next year. Aldrich was fantastic and will be even stronger next year. Taylor's brain will catch up with his speed and he could be the best guard to ever play for KU. The Morriss twins need a lot of coaching but they have the raw talent to excel if they apply themselves in all aspects of the game. Morningstar, or Releford, or Stephenson, or someone is going to have to get a lot tougher and a lot more confident in the 3 slot to help Cole & Marcus on the inside and the guards on the outside. Bring on next year; it's going to be another great year for KU basketball.

jaytrey 13 years, 4 months ago

First off id like to say Great Great job fellas, this was one hell of a year. You've given me everything i cherish about a basketball season so please don't hold your heads down we may not have the National Championship, but there is some solace in knowing that for 16 games, through a tough conference schedule we came out Champions! Second, Sherron Collins do what's best for Sherron but in this case i truly believe Kansas is what's best for him. Cole same exact advice. Now, lastly ive been hearing rumors about calipari taking the kentucky job. At first it didn't really matter to me but as i thought a minute he's got a recruit Xavier Henry who might not want to don the Kentucky blue and we still have that scholarship as of right now(lance stephenson is scheduled to announce decision tomorrow at 1145 am) so what happens with him? Any answers please reply

Tan Hong Woon 13 years, 4 months ago

Earlier in the year, perhaps coach Self should design more plays for the freshmen to shoulder, especially in down the wire situations. This game reminds me of the MU and OU games, good lead in the first half and hesitate in the second half as if a different group of players are playing. When come to crucial time, gave the ball to Collins. If he delivers, as in the OU game, we win, or else, we loss. We need one or two options and the rockies should be more aggressive in the second half when we have the lead.

kansas22 13 years, 4 months ago

On a different note. Calipari is in talks with Kentucky. If he leaves Memphis this could mean Xavier Henry will end up becoming a Jayhawk after all. We could REALLY be STACKED next year. I guess time will tell...

Jeff Kilgore 13 years, 4 months ago

No, KU wasn't supposed to be here, not at the S16 stage of the season. I'll bet that Self is ecstatic about how KU came together. I don't know who on this board has played basketball at various stages of life, but 18 year olds who can compete with 21-22 year olds are truly exceptional. Additions to our team? Henry? Maybe. Stephenson, definitely. Sounds like he wants to be here!

Mike Ardis 13 years, 4 months ago

This wasn't a one time thing. In their last six games KU was 3-3 and in four of the games were held to 65 or fewer points, losing three of those four. The one game KU won was a game where the other team was just awful on offense. Defense is great but you still have to outscore the other team.

Joe Joseph 13 years, 4 months ago

"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. "

I Don't Even Know What This Means!!

rockchalk007 13 years, 4 months ago

Nice article, Jesse. And good analysis. The young Jayhawks (by that I mean first year to KU BB) coupled with the physical limitations of Reed and Morningstar caused the very slight breakdown of a team which dominated the first 30 minutes of the game.

Playoff bb is different from regular season and even league play. Especially the ability to elevate the level of play, make a play, make a stop, get to the line...superior talent will most of the time win out because of this ability to elevate the level of play for a few key minutes on the biggest stage. In my opinion MSU has superior atheletes to KU. Just look at the bodies. We did not give it away, they took it away and we could not stop it from happening. This is not choking, just reveals a team's limitations, especially in college basketball.

The KU coaching staff and big Cole Aldrich did a GREAT job getting those cherry picks in the first half. Wow! That surprized them, and me too. The second half was more a grind it out affair and the MSU boys are stronger. No more easy ones.

The only second guess might have been why not play Mario a little bit more, especially towards the end, the last 6-8 minutes. He can and will next year elevate his game at the peak moment, not cosistently unfortunately, but at crunch time (remember Missouri, he was almost the hero). We needed him to drive and shoot and get fouled and make free throws and steal an extra possession or two in the second half of the second half.

KU did as a team play tight in the Big 12 tourney and the first 3 rounds of the Dance. At the end, Taylor and Reed and Morningstar just did not want the ball and were looking to pass it back out as soon as they touched it. This is understandable as they just did not have the physical strengh to attach or even shoot under such strong defensive pressure. The Morris boys were not used to that level of physicality. Sherron and Cole did elevate their level of play, and played even better. What a great group of guys and what great competitors. Go Hawks!

Someone said it, we did not have a wing capable of elevating his level of play at the hardest time. (That would have gone to a healthy Mario).

Great. great season Jayhawks! Next year for sure!

John Strayer 13 years, 4 months ago

drgnslayr - Xavier is an incoming freshman...if released from his LOI before accepting financial aid at Memphis...he doesn't need to sit out.

ku98 13 years, 4 months ago

"I expect a big celebration here in 2 and a half hours. Everybody got that?" Bill Self concluding his speech before the UNC game. Just awesome. Good times!

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