Spartans guard Harris is guarded by Buckeyes guard Craft during the first half of their NCAA men's college basketball game at the 2013 Big 10 tournament in Chicago

Gary Harris is healthy, and that’s a scary thought for Big Ten teams

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WASHINGTON, D.C. —  “I wanna do whatever I can to help my team win.”

That’s how Michigan State guard Gary Harris described his mindset heading into the summer, and it’s a mindset that everyone paying attention should believe.

Harris played the entirety of last season with a shoulder injury that forced him to miss the first two games of the year. He also spent the first three months of his offseason focused more on rehabbing that shoulder than getting better as a basketball player, a fact that actually was good news for Michigan State fans; it meant that Harris didn’t have to undergo surgery.

So yeah, Harris is going to do what he has to do to help the Spartans win.

“I’m just the type of person that’s going to play through regardless,” said Harris, who had offers from Notre Dame, Kentucky, Iowa, Indiana and Purdue to play wide receiver coming out of high school. “I sat out the first two games, but after that I couldn’t sit out anymore. I was going to play even if the shoulder fell off. So it feels good to finally get back to 100% healthy and get back to how I used to be.”

How he used to be is a scary thought for Michigan State fans. As Tom Izzo said back in April, we “haven’t seen the Gary Harris I recruited yet.”

I got a chance to see Harris work out and scrimmage at the Kevin Durant Skills Academy in Washington DC over the weekend, and one of the things that stood out to me was that Harris appeared to be much more explosive that I remembered him being during the season. During the drills and while they played 5-on-5, Harris looked to have an improved first-step and threw down a couple of impressive dunks in the process.

Where he could end up making the biggest leap, however, is with his physicality. Harris is a strong kid. It helps him defensively and in the paint, but it’s an even bigger asset when he’s driving to the rim. For a right-handed kid with a bad left-shoulder, it’s hard to use that strength to get by defenders off of the bounce; their left-shoulder is what makes first contact with a defender is the key to creating a driving lane. When it hurts, it makes driving to the rim painful.

With a healthy shoulder, there were a couple of times where Harris shed defenders driving to the rim like he was Adrian Peterson. That’s a scary thought for opponents, but a good sign for Michigan State.

A healthy and motivated Harris is an All-American caliber talent, and health isn’t the only thing that Harris built up this spring.

“I’m putting a big emphasis on winning this offseason,” he said, “especially after seeing one of our big rivals go to the championship game. We have a good chance and I want to do anything I can to get my team to Dallas.”

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

 

No. 14 West Virginia takes care of No. 15 Baylor

West Virginia forward Devin Williams (41) dunks the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor, Saturday, Feb, 6, 2016, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)
AP Photo/Raymond Thompson
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Not exactly noted for their ability to knock down shots from the perimeter, No. 14 West Virginia grabbed sole possession of first place in the Big 12 thanks in part to their perimeter shooting. The Mountaineers shot 7-for-14 from three and 49.1 percent from the field in a 80-69 win over No. 15 Baylor that wasn’t as close as the final margin would lead one to believe.

Bob Huggins’ team led by as much as 19 in the second half, and the way in which they did it is what makes the win so impressive. “Press Virginia” yielded just ten Baylor turnovers, but that low number didn’t matter much thanks to West Virginia’s execution offensively.

They found quality looks against Baylor’s 1-1-3 zone in the first half and made them at a good clip, forcing Scott Drew to switch to man-to-man. That change didn’t do much to slow down West Virginia either, as Daxter Miles Jr. scored 20 points and sixth man Jaysean Paige added 17 off the bench. And with Devin Williams chipping in with 16 points and seven boards in the post, outplaying Baylor’s Rico Gathers Sr. (five points, seven rebounds), West Virginia grabbed control of the game in the first half and did not relinquish it.

The usual formula for West Virginia offensively is to attack the offensive glass, as their offensive rebounding percentage (43 percent) is tops in the country. “Their best offense is a missed shot” is a familiar refrain heard when people discuss the Mountaineers, who entered the game shooting just over 30 percent from three.

They didn’t need to lean on those second chances as heavily as they normally do Saturday night, not only because of the improved accuracy but also the improved work in finding shots. The ball moved against the Baylor defense and so did the players, resulting in an offensive attack that proved tougher for the visiting Bears to stop that one would expect given the statistics entering the game.

West Virginia was already established as a contender in the Big 12, but thanks to their win Saturday night the Mountaineers are the current pace setters. With a showdown at No. 7 Kansas set for Tuesday night, this was a big win for Bob Huggins’ team to get. And with it coming in spite of a low turnover (forced) count, this should only help West Virginia in the confidence department moving forward.

No. 22 Indiana falls at Penn State

Penn State's Shep Garner (33) moves towards the basket during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Indiana in State College, Pa., Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Ralph Wilson)
(AP Photo/Ralph Wilson)
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Brendan Taylor scored 24 points to lead Penn State to a 68-63 upset of No. 22 Indiana on Saturday night.

The Nittany Lions were 2-8 in Big Ten play entering the weekend. Indiana? They were 9-1 and tied for first in the conference. It’s the second loss in four games for the Hoosiers following a 7-0 start to Big Ten play, a fact made all the more concerning by the fact that their league schedule is finally about to get difficult.

The Hoosiers play No. 5 Iowa at home and No. 10 Michigan State in East Lansing next week. The following week they get No. 18 Purdue at home. In the final week of the regular season, Indiana squares off with No. 5 Iowa on the road and close the regular season with a visit from No. 4 Maryland.

That’s a lot of good teams that the Hoosiers to close out the year.

The question has been asked since Indiana’s hot start to league play: Are they for real? Did the Hoosiers really somehow turn things around defensively, or was that winning streak simply a by-product of their schedule?

The truth is that it was probably a combination of both. Calling them a fraud would be unjust — if you watched those games, there wasn’t much fluky about them; Indiana earned the Ws — but it does seem fair to say this is something of a regression to the mean.

They were going to slip up eventually.

And it will totally be forgotten if the Hoosiers can find a way to close the regular season with a winning record in their final seven games.