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.

Ellis, Lucas lead No. 6 Kansas past No. 10 West Virginia

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) blocks a shot by West Virginia guard Tarik Phillip (12) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lawrence, Kan., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
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In the first meeting between No. 10 West Virginia and No. 6 Kansas, the Mountaineers dominated in their 74-63 win in Morgantown. Bob Huggins’ “Press Virginia” attack forced 22 Kansas turnovers, with the Jayhawks playing far too fast and loose with the basketball while also getting out-toughed by the Mountaineers. In the rematch Kansas (20-4, 8-3 Big 12) looked far better equipped to deal with West Virginia in both of those areas, winning by the final score of 75-65.

Kansas committed 15 turnovers, with Devonte’ Graham responsible for five of them, but they did not allow West Virginia (19-4, 8-3) to use those chances to kickstart their offense. The Mountaineers scored 13 points (one fewer than Kansas, which took advantage of ten WVU miscues) off of those turnovers and did not register a single fast break points. Having to play in the half-court more than they would have liked, West Virginia could not execute at the level they did in beating Baylor Saturday.

As a result Bob Huggins’ team shot 37.3 percent from the field and 5-for-20 from beyond the arc. The Mountaineers have shown signs of being able to win games in which they don’t force a high turnover count, but that wasn’t the case at Allen Fieldhouse.

If not for West Virginia grabbing better than 34 percent of their misses and scoring 14 second-chance points, the margin is likely even greater than the ten-point outcome due to the contract in offensive execution. Kansas pushed the ball early, getting out to an 8-0 lead, and as the game wore on the Jayhawks were much better in finding quality shot opportunities. Bill Self’s team shot 56.1 percent from the field with Perry Ellis scoring 21 points to lead five Jayhawks in double figures.

The tandem of Ellis and Landen Lucas, who grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds, won the battle against a WVU front court missing the suspended Jonathan Holton. Devin Williams, who went for 17 and 12 in the first meeting, finished the rematch with a respectable 14-point, nine-rebound effort but he didn’t get much help in the post from the likes of Elijah Macon and Nathan Adrian.

After having Self question their toughness in a home win over Kansas State six days ago, the Jayhawks have responded with wins over TCU and West Virginia. Obviously it’s tough to read too much into beating the Horned Frogs, because even with that game being in Fort Worth it’s one Kansas was expected to handle with ease. The Mountaineers posed a different, and far more rigorous test, and Kansas got the job done.

As a result the Jayhawks have brought West Virginia back to the pack in the Big 12 title race, making Saturday’s game at No. 3 Oklahoma even bigger than it already was.

VIDEO: North Carolina head coach Roy Williams collapses on sideline

Roy Williams
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North Carolina head coach Roy Williams collapsed during the second half of No. 2 North Carolina’s visit to Boston College on Tuesday night:

Roy Williams has dealt with vertigo in the past; it’s not abnormal for him to collapse on the sideline during games, and given that his team is currently losing to Boston College, it’s understandable that he may have screamed himself dizzy.

He had to be helped off the floor:

It does appear that this isn’t something serious, according to a North Carolina release, that said Williams is “doing OK”.