Keith Appling, Nnanna Egwu

Tonight we saw the Keith Appling Michigan State needs every night

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Illinois spent 20 minutes looking like the team that we all remembered from November against No. 13 Michigan State on Thursday night.

You know the group I’m talking about. They beat Gonzaga at Gonzaga. They beat Butler by 17 points in Maui. They beat Ohio State by 19 points at home.

At the half, the Illini had built a 37-27 lead on the Spartans, as they knocked down enough threes early in the game to open up penetration lanes for their guards, who sliced up the Michigan State defense.

And I have a feeling that ticked off Tom Izzo, because the second half was a different story.

Michigan State reeled off a 14-0 run that they pushed to a 24-6 surge to start the second half, and never allowed the Illini to get closer than two points the rest of the way despite playing the majority of the half without the services of Gary Harris (back spasms) and Travis Trice. Without his back court help healthy, Keith Appling absolutely took over. He finished with 24 points, eight boards and seven assists, but like he did back in November in a win over Kansas, Appling seemingly made every big play down the stretch for Michigan State.

There was the three he made with four minutes left when Illinois cut it to three. There was the play where he split a double-team, nearly fell over and still found Branden Dawson for an alley-oop to put the Spartans up five with two minutes left. There was the driving layup with 45 seconds left that put Sparty up six and all but sealed the game. And, fittingly, there were the two free throws he hit with two seconds left to give Michigan State the 80-75 win.

This was the Keith Appling that Michigan State needs is they are going to give Indiana and Michigan a run for the Big Ten title. This was the Keith Appling that the Spartans need if they are going to have a chance to make the Final Four.

You know what you’re going to get out of Dawson every night, but beyond that, the rest of the Spartan roster can be inconsistent.

Sparty cannot afford for Appling to have disappearing acts like he did against Indiana.

Because if he had played better — if he had stayed out of foul trouble — Michigan State probably would have won that game.

And our opinion of the Spartans might be a bit different today.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Rutgers hoping new duo can bring a spark

of the Ohio State Buckeyes against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during their Big Ten conference game at Rutgers Athletic Center on February 8, 2015 in Piscataway, New Jersey.
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Rutgers has struggled to achieve success on the floor the last few years and head coach Eddie Jordan is hoping that some talented newcomers can help start a turnaround. With the start of practice, local media saw some of the Scarlet Knights’ early practice and Jerry Carino of the Asbury Park Press noted that the duo of freshman point guard Corey Sanders and junior college forward Deshawn Freeman were getting a lot of burn together.

With both incoming players being four-star prospects, it’s hardly a surprise that Jordan would see what the two were capable of. According to Carino, it meant a lot of Sanders driving and forcing the defense to collapse before finding Freeman.

“It seems like coach always has us on the same team,” Freeman said to Carino. “Ever since we’ve gotten here, he’s trying to get us to play together.”

Carino also notes that since Rutgers is deeper, longer and more athletic in general this season, the team could do more with a pressing defense to help create turnovers.

While Rutgers still faces an uphill climb in the Big Ten, they at least have some exciting pieces that will be in place for a few seasons.

LSU looking into starting lineup options

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - MARCH 7:  Head Coach Johnny Jones of the LSU Tigers watches his team play during a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Bud Walton Arena on March 7, 2015 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  The Tigers defeated the Razorbacks 81-78.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
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LSU football and Leonard Fournette are off to a strong start this fall, but the beginning of October also means that college hoops is right around the corner. If you’re a Tigers basketball fan, you also have plenty to be excited about on the hardwood this season with the arrival of a loaded freshman class headlined by forward Ben Simmons.

While the versatile Simmons has solidified a spot in the starting lineup for next season, it’ll be interesting to see how head coach Johnny Jones uses the rest of his talented freshmen. In a story from Sheldon Mickles of the New Orleans Advocate, he looks into some potential LSU starting lineups.

Freshman guard Antonio Blakeney, a McDonald’s All-American with Simmons, is also expected to start, but does another talented freshman guard, Brandon Sampson get a shot to start? And what of Arizona transfer Craig Victor when he’s eligible to play in December?

Mickles believes the early favorite for starting lineup is guards Tim Quarterman, Keith Hornsby, Blakeney, Simmons and center Darcy Malone. When Victor returns, Mickles said Victor could push Simmons into the “center” position, which would be a matchup nightmare on the opposition because Simmons would be very tough for many college centers to defend.

Sampson also gets a mention from Mickles of having the potential to start down the line. Overall, a good problem to have for Jones and he’ll have to experiment to see which lineups are giving him the most. Having a productive starting five is nice, but I’m sure Jones would love to find the five players he wants to close with.