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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.


blindrabbit 9 years, 2 months ago

Boy that pretty well sums it up! I used to get upset during the BB games because the occasional sloppy play was expected; now it's the usual! Most of the turnovers are unforced; game plans are questionable! Football will be a welcome departure!

Steve Jacob 9 years, 2 months ago

Again, we got a big break winning the Memphis game last year, and made up for it with this MSU game. Karma.

geniusmannumber1 9 years, 2 months ago

I agree with duplenty. It was Sherron and Mario's excellent free throw defense that made Memphis miss all those free throws, thereby putting us in position to win the game. Complete skill. No good fortune involved.

Alia Ahmed 9 years, 2 months ago


I'm curious about your credentials as a sports writer. Did you play college basketball or coach college basketball prior to your career as a sports writer? Your article certainly indicates you have the ability to crunch numbers. Of course, you know what they say, there are lies, damn lies and statistics. The game of basketball is more than a game of percentages and statistics, which is why teams actually show up and play the game. In my humble opinion, a game's outcome is the result of talent, strategy, heart and luck. By the way, I haven't played or coached college basketball, but been watching it since long before you were a twinkle in your parents' eyes. Great season, Jayhawks. Rock Chalk!

geniusmannumber1 9 years, 2 months ago

Well, you've got Logan 72 saying "I never coached a game of basketball, but I do know that statistics don't tell you anything." And you have every NBA front office and a near-majority of big-conference basketball programs saying "Wow, all these statistics are great. They really explain the game in ways I'd never thought of." So I don't know who to believe.

Alia Ahmed 9 years, 2 months ago

I didn't say statistics don't tell you anything, genius, but they don't tell the whole story. Perhaps the most important statistic is MSU had more points than KU when the time ran out. :~ ) I'll leave it up to the experts to decide how to interpret the rest of the statistics and prepare for next year.

Jason Hohman 9 years, 2 months ago

Wow Logan... I think Jesse's credentials as a sports writer come from his education, not his previous sporting experience.

Statistical analysis of games are HUGE now. Have you ever heard of Bill James. I am guessing he wouldn't look very good in a uniform, but he is well respected for his statistcal analysis.

Richard Heckler 9 years, 2 months ago

Arm chair coach comment:

Roy would not have accepted team players forgetting there were other team members on the floor therefore dribbling through the center, in the paint and then throwing it away would not have been tolerated. Self seems to have a bit more tolerance It takes all 5 as a team to make points so pull back and put together a play.

Why did so many of our jayhawks throw the ball away so many times either out of bounds or to the other team? I am still puzzled about this out of character playing style. All of the players did this. What the hell happened? And yet they still came close to winning - which the Jayhawks should have.

Yes I still like Roys style of coaching and high scoring teams which operate like a well oiled machine. Self is a good coach which keeps the Jayhawks winning seasons rolling in.

Face it if Collins and Aldrich stick around we'll be tough to beat once again. We've got good team members to work with. Self pulled together a team in spite of the odds.

Next year will be exciting.

Notice since Fargo made the NCAA play off's they are now in the news constantly.

slowplay 9 years, 2 months ago

"In the end, a bad shot is better than any turnover."

I've coached and played for more years than I care to remember and this is one of the all time truisms of basketball. I used to tell my players that I will never tell you not to shoot. I may question your shot selection, but never the shot attempt.

Alia Ahmed 9 years, 2 months ago

I said the game was more than percentages and statistics, not that those were not factors. The players on each team are not robots that go out and perform as such. Although statistics can be predictive, it's no guarantee and other things influence the game and the level of play of each player. It seems if fans and sports writers expect that of our team or other teams, maybe fantasy sports would be more suitable for them. I can think of many games that statistics would have predicted KU would lose in basketball or football, but extraordinary effort on our teams' part of extraordinarily poor effort or bad luck on the other teams' part changed the outcome. When coaches are giving a pep talk before the game or at half-time, they are encouraging players to find something deep inside themselves that can not be measured statistically.

jonas_opines 9 years, 2 months ago

geniusmannumber1 (Anonymous) says…

"It was Sherron and Mario's excellent free throw defense that made Memphis miss all those free throws."

A genius might say that, alternatively, it was Sherron and Mario's practice, and Self's direction for the team, that kept Us from missing the free throws late in the game. Our team practiced their fundamentals sufficiently, and so hit their shots and their free-throws (100% in last 2:14 of reg, high percentage in OT). Memphis apparently, and per report, did not, and missed 3 of their last 4 freethrows in regulation.

Phil Minkin 9 years, 2 months ago

The blogger stats prove that the Hawks should have covered the court with old Journal Worlds, since he shows they play better on paper.

Larry Bauerle Jr. 9 years, 2 months ago

Wow! Let me get this straight, had the Jayhawks not turned the ball over, their chances of winning would have increased. I'm sure Coach Self has never thought of this! I hope he reads this. Also, with all the experts to tell him how to do his job, and to be more like Roy, maybe some day he might recruit some decent players, win a national championship and be named national coach of the year, two years in a row.

Jim Hoffman 9 years, 2 months ago

im just shocked that a young team with most of their players performing in their first REAL tournament game committed turnovers!
look, even veteran teams like pitt and villanova made huge mistakes in the final minutes of their epic battle... you could also say that ku giving up three offensive rebounds when they were up 5 with under 3 to play cost them the game... a rebound there and kansas probably holds on.. you could also say that if bill self had banned the morris twins from taking three pointers, they might have won the game... yes, im disappointed that they had a chance to win but couldnt hold off MSU, moreso in light of MSU"s defeat of Louisville... but let's be realistic, you werent going to win a title with just Aldrich and Collins... more experience, along with the incoming talent, and KU will be right back in the title mix next year

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