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.

Former Michigan State star arrested for third time in four months

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Photo via Wayne County Prosecutor's Office
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For the third time since May, former Michigan State star Keith Appling has been arrested in an incident involving a loaded gun.

According to police, Appling was the driver of a car that was pulled over on Sunday night in Detroit. After an officer detected the scent of marijuana and requested Appling’s license, Appling rolled up his window sped off. He was stopped a short time later, but officers noticed that a Gucci bag that was in the back seat his car was missing. As they went over the route of the pursuit, they found the bag, which contained a loaded handgun and paperwork with Appling’s name on it.

In June, Appling was arrested when, during a traffic stop, he was in the back seat of a car where a handgun was found in the floorboard. That happened a month after he was arrested in the parking lot of a Dearborn, Michigan, strip club when a handgun and a loaded AK-47 were found in his car.

Tennessee football to honor Pat Summitt with helmet sticker

KNOXVILLE, TN - JULY 14:  Flower wreaths line the wall at Pat Summitt Plaza before the start of a ceremony to celebrate the life of former Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt at the Thompson-Boling Arena on July 14, 2016 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Summitt died June 28 at the age of 64, five years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. (Photo by Craig Bisacre/Tennessee Athletics - Pool/Getty Images)
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Tennessee’s football team will be wearing a commemorative sticker on their helmet this season to honor the late Pat Summitt.

Summitt coached the Lady Vols for nearly four decades, building the women’s basketball program into a goliath in the sport and simultaneously doing more than just about anyone to advance women’s athletics in this country while becoming the winningest Division I college coach of all-time.

“We’re excited about wearing a commemorative sticker on the back of our helmet to honor the late Pat Summitt,” football coach Butch Jones said. “We know everything she stands for. I think it’s very fitting that Tennessee football and Team 120 recognize her and everything she means to the University of Tennessee and state of Tennessee.”

The stickers will look like this:

Tennessee athletics
Tennessee athletics

Villanova beats Duke, Kansas, Indiana for Jermaine Samuels

Atlanta, GA - MAY 27: Nike EYBL. Session 4. Jermaine Samuels, Jr. #23 of Expressions Elite dunks. (Photo by Jon Lopez)
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Villanova landed a commitment from top 50 prospect Jermaine Samuels on Saturday.

Samuels is a tough and athletic 6-foot-5 wing that will remind many Wildcat fans of Josh Hart. He’s got the same kind of versatility and nose for the ball that will let him guard perimeter players as well as work in as a small-ball four. Players like this are a specialty of Jay Wright.

Samuels picked up an offer from Duke recently and also had Indiana, Kansas and Georgetown in his top five. Beating out blue-bloods for a prospect like this is quite the statement for Villanova, one that should tell you the reigning national champs are here to stay as a national power.

Syracuse lands critical piece in Andrew White

LINCOLN, NE - FEBRUARY 3: Andrew White #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers shoots the ball over Rasheed Sulaimon #0 of the Maryland Terrapins during their game at Pinnacle Bank Arena on February 3, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Syracuse has found their replacement for Malachi Richardson.

On Sunday, Nebraska transfer Andrew White committed to the Orange, picking Syracuse, in the end, over VCU. White is a graduate transfer who spent last season with Nebraska, where he averaged 16.2 points while shooting 41.2 percent from three. A top 50 prospect out of Virginia back in the Class of 2012, White played a limited role for Kansas his first two seasons in college.

This is a significant pickup for the Orange, one that legitimately puts them into the conversation as a Final Four contender and a threat to finish at or near the top of the ACC. Jim Boeheim has put together a roster full of talented, long and athletic front court players, but after Richardson declared for the NBA Draft as a one-and-done freshman, he was left with just two back court players on his roster.

Earlier this offseason, Cuse landed Colorado State grad transfer John Gillon, a 6-foot-1 combo-guard, to reinforce their back court. The addition of White gives them a lights-out shooter and a big-time scorer on the wing, something that would have been a major void on their roster.

With Paschal Chukwu getting eligible at the center spot and Tyler Lydon likely landing on every breakout player list this preseason, the Orange should be a markedly better team than the one that made their way to the Final Four last season.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.