Keith Appling

Keith Appling’s struggles hurt No. 4 Michigan State in loss to No. 1 Indiana


There is a reason Keith Appling is a captain on this Michigan State basketball team. In a 72-68 loss to No. 1 Indiana Tuesday night, though, Appling struggled from the floor for the third straight game, raising legitimate questions about what sort of road the junior guard and his Spartan teammates are paving on their way to March.

In the loss to Indiana, Appling finished just 1-of-8 from the floor, including 0-of-4 from three-point range, and committed four turnovers to go along with two assists. That means in the current three-game stretch, Appling is 8-of-33 from the floor (24 percent). Following his poor performance earlier in the year against the Hoosiers, that makes him 2-of-12 with two assists and eight turnovers against the nation’s top team.

Granted, sometimes the Spartans can make it work. He deserves credit for his seven assists in a win over Michigan and getting to the free throw line in a victory over Nebraska. But against the nation’s No. 1 team and as we look forward to March, Michigan State needs Appling to, simply put, be better.

“Having Keith out [with foul trouble in MSU’s first meeting vs. Indiana] hurts that, too, because he is the more aggressive guy in penetrating, gets to the free-throw line and he puts people in position to get to the free-throw line,” coach Tom Izzo said prior to the game. “Maybe they did hold us, maybe we self-checked ourselves, maybe a combination of both.”

Part of the problem can be attributed to the absence of backup Travis Trice, who had missed the last four games due to a concussion and played just six minutes Tuesday against Indiana. Appling has continually logged 35+ minutes per game and that could be a cause of his shooting woes from the floor.

“It puts a lot of pressure on Keith, and Keith was a warrior [versus Nebraska], but I think maybe it hurts some of his shooting,” Izzo said.

The key has been for Appling to get to the free throw line to help heal the struggles from the floor, or to excel distributing the basketball. Neither were the case Tuesday. That caused a ripple effect, forcing freshman Gary Harris to shoulder more of the offensive weight with 19 points and Adreian Payne with 17.

Appling has the chance to get back on the right track and Trice being back and fully healthy will help some in that regard, but Michigan State will need him if they want to be an elite team come tourney time.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.