Memphis v Michigan State

Michigan State’s Keith Appling improving shooting, decision making; Gary Harris has ‘captain material’

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Following a successful 2012-2013 campaign, Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans are eyeing a return to the Final Four this April. The  expectations for Michigan State will be high this season, and the play of guard Keith Appling and Gary Harris will help dictate how far the Spartans go this season.

Entering August, the Michigan State coaching staff has been impressed with its backcourt tandem this offseason.

“I think he’s shooting with confidence,” Michigan State assistant coach Dane Fife told Diamond Leung of MLive.com. “He’s shooting with consistency. Keith had a tendency to shoot all different ways. He’d go back to his bad habits. It was, ‘Well, let’s just get it to the rim area and see what happens.’ A lot of shooters do that. His defense mechanism would turn on. ‘I know I’ve got to shoot this because I’m a Big Ten basketball player.’ So he would get it to the rim area, and that was his defense mechanism where now, he just consistently, ‘this is what I’m going to do, and it’s going in.'”

Appling, the rising senior guard, averaged a team-high 13.4 points per game. He has put last season’s off the floor issues behind him, and along with shooting the 6-foot-1 point guard want to up his assists per game, which dropped from just under four assists a game to 3.3 as a junior. Appling has more than enough options to be a good facilitator next season.

“Gary Harris should not have to work on every single play off a screen or from the NBA line and getting two dribbles,” Fife told MLive. “He shouldn’t have to do that. He should have a great point guard. Branden Dawson the same way. Adreian Payne the same way. And that’s one thing Keith has really worked on is how do I get my teammates easy shots?”

Harris elected to return for his sophomore season after winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors despite a nagging shoulder problem. Now healthy, Harris will look to bring something else to the Spartans program besides a scoring presence.

“Gary is one of those guys who’s in the gym not by himself, but with teammates,” Fife told Leung on Monday. “He’s working. He’s such a good teammate that even as going into his sophomore year, he’s a guy that we can lean on not just on the floor, but off the floor to help this team with anything that we need.

“He’s captain material. We’ve got a lot of guys that are captain material.”

This is just the latest good news to come out of East Lansing this offseason, further making the Spartans look like a strong favorite entering next season.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.

VIDEO: New Mexico loses game on blown call by officials

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Nothing like a nice, controversial finish to get the blood flowing.

New Mexico was on the receiving end of a rule misinterpretation on Saturday afternoon, and that interpretation likely cost the Lobos a win over San Diego State and, arguably, a shot at the MWC regular season title.

Here’s the situation: New Mexico is up by three with 12 seconds left and the ball under their own basket. Their allowed to run the baseline, so Craig Neal calls a play where the inbounder throws the ball to a player running out of bounds.

Totally league as long as the player establishes out of bounds before touching the ball. The referee rules that he doesn’t.

Here’s the video:

The problem?

According to the rules, Xavier Adams — the player receiving the pass from Cullen Neal — only needed one foot on the floor out of bounds in order to establish himself as an inbounder that was able to catch that ball. He got one foot down (see the picture above), but the referees appeared to rule that he needed to have both feet down.

That was incorrect, according to the Mountain West office.

“While this was a very close judgment call made at full speed, it has been determined after careful review of slow-motion video replays the call was in fact incorrect,” the league said in a release. “The New Mexico player did get one foot down (two feet are not required) out-of-bounds before receiving the ball, thus establishing his location in accordance NCAA Basketball Playing Rules 4.23.1.a and 7.1.1.  By rule, the officials were not permitted to go to the monitor during the game to review this play.”

And here’s the kicker: When SDSU got the ball back, they hit a three to send the game into overtime, where the Aztecs won. But if New Mexico had won this game, they’d be sitting at 8-2 in MWC play, one game behind SDSU in the loss column with a return game against them in The Pit.

Instead, they’re now three games back with seven to play, meaning that the race is effectively over.

It’s tough to blame the referees here — it was a bang-bang call that is only clear in slow-motion replay — but man, that’s a big call to miss.