Michigan State was ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll this time last week. Then the Spartans were handled at Ohio State. And most people's reaction was something along the lines of ... "Hey, it happens."
Which is true, of course.
Already this season we've watched Villanova lose at unranked Butler, Duke lose at unranked Boston College and unranked NC State, Xavier lose at unranked Providence, Gonzaga lose at unranked San Diego State, Arizona lose at unranked Colorado, so on and so forth. Again, it happens. So there was nothing especially troubling about Michigan State losing at unranked Ohio State last Sunday. But everything that's happened since -- specifically Wednesday's 76-72 unimpressive OT win at home over unranked Rutgers that was followed by Saturday's 82-72 loss at home to unranked Michigan -- suggests Tom Izzo has issues to address. And the most obvious issue is the Spartans' inability to take care of the basketball.
Michigan State has an offensive-turnover percentage of 19.7 -- meaning the Spartans give the ball away basically one out of every five possessions. That ranks 224th in the nation. And it's the main reason Michigan State lost Saturday.
The Spartans committed 18 turnovers in 40 minutes. The Wolverines committed just seven. The result was Michigan attempting 12 more shots than Michigan State, which is why the Wolverines won easily despite shooting a lower percentage.
And this is not a new problem.
My former colleague, The Athletic's Sam Vecenie, identified this issue in November and suggested it could be the difference between Michigan State winning or not-winning a national championship. That was true then and remains true now.
"When your sights are squarely (and fairly) set on winning a national title, it's the stuff on the margins that separates the great from the elite," Vecenie wrote after Michigan State committed 24 turnovers in a 63-45 win over North Carolina. "Michigan State's battle to reduce turnovers is the clear question going forward that Izzo, his staff, and his players must solve."
It's been 46 days since Vecenie wrote those words.
To date, nothing has been solved.
The Spartans are still giving the ball away more often than they're taking the ball away. Usually, they're good enough to win regardless. But sometimes they aren't. And Saturday they weren't.