Friday, December 16, 2011

Spartans racking up high numbers of steals

This story originally appeared on

Tom Izzo's teams have always been some of the best defensive teams in the country.

But one of the few defense stats — steals — has never been a strong point of the Spartans. Over the previous 10 seasons, the highest MSU ranked in steals was 100th, in 2004-05, with 7.8 steals per game.

Ten games into this season, the Spartans have had very active hands, as MSU is ranked 39th in the country with 8.8 steals per game

Izzo exclusively plays man-to-man defense, which doesn't lead to as many turnovers. Syracuse, which has become synonymous with zone defense, leads the nation with 12.3 steals per game.

It should be noted that the season is young, and some teams' schedules have been easier than others, but there is no doubt the Spartans have getting steals at a rate Izzo's teams rarely see. Of the four games against BCS-conference (Edit: BCS-caliber) teams, MSU has recorded seven (North Carolina), eight (Duke), 10 (Florida State) and 10 (Gonzaga) swipes in those games.

There are four Spartans averaging at least one steal per game: Draymond Green, Travis Trice, Derrick Nix and Austin Thornton. Only Green is in the top 250 players with 1.8 per game.

Defense can always make up for a poor offense. While MSU's offense took a few games to get acclimated, the defense has been the foundation — the way Izzo always wants it. 

MSU is averaging 15.2 turnovers per game on offense, ranked 227th in the country, but its turnover margin is is ranked 80 spots higher at +0.9. The best way for the young team to work through the growing pains on offense is to play solid defense, and MSU is 30th in the country in scoring defense.

Saturday's opponent, Bowling Green, is only averaging 12.3 turnovers per game, so the active hands of the Spartans will be tested. While the young Spartans look for a strong finish to the nonconference schedule, Izzo can be pleased with how his defense has adjusted.

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