Michigan State v Duke

Keith Appling will determine Michigan State’s fate in 2013-14

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With Adreian Payne’s decision to return to East Lansing for his senior season and rising sophomore guard Gary Harris finally at 100% after dealing with a shoulder issue for much of the 2012-13 season, Michigan State has the look of a national title contender as we approach the start of fall classes.

But if the Spartans are to make good on their on-paper promise, the improvement of one player will likely have the greatest impact. That player: senior point guard Keith Appling.

As a junior Appling’s scoring improved, as he averaged 13.4 points per contest on the season. But his assists and assist-to-turnover ratio numbers dropped, with Appling averaging 3.3 assists per game and posing an A/T ratio of 1.4. For Appling the issue wasn’t so much being loose with the basketball as it was his failure to set up teammates at the rate Michigan State needed him to.

In a story by Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo discussed Appling’s issues at the point last season.

“Some of the turnovers … they weren’t all Appling. The lack of assists was Appling,” Izzo said. “He didn’t take 90 shots a game, but it’s just the thought process. It wasn’t a selfish thing, the shots he took.

“Keith wasn’t as turnover-prone, but he wasn’t as assist-prone. He isn’t taking a lot of shots, but he wasn’t driving thinking about making somebody else better. Because he can get in the lane anytime.”

With this in mind, as well as a directive from the head coach that he has to improve as a point guard lest he want the keys to the offense tossed to someone else, Appling’s spent more time watching film. The end result: a different player according to the head coach, who knows something about the kind of point guard needed in order to win a national title.

“He’s started coming in watching film. It’s hard to change that; that’s one of the harder things to change. But watching practice now, he’s just different,” Izzo said. “He’s enjoying it. Most kids do enjoy great passes; you’ve scored all your life, or you wouldn’t be at this level. I’ve really been pleased with his progress. Because he can guard anybody.”

If there’s one tie that binds national champions together it’s having a quality leader at the point guard position. Having talent at the other positions is certainly a requirement, but if there’s no leader running the show it’s very difficult to win six straight in March.

If Appling can build on the progress he’s made this summer and become that man for Michigan State, the Spartans are capable of cutting down the nets in early April.

As good as they’ve been, No. 3 Michigan State has yet to play their best

Bryn Forbes, Ryan Fazekas
Associated Press
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Sunday night’s Wooden Legacy title game matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence was billed as a matchup of the nation’s two best players, and rightfully so. Michigan State senior Denzel Valentine (17 points, six rebounds, five assists), who already has two triple-doubles to his credit this season, and Providence redshirt junior Kris Dunn (21 points, five rebounds, seven assists) have more than lived up to the preseason expectations and more of the same was expected in Anaheim.

And while both had their moments, it was Michigan State’s supporting cast that made the difference in their 77-64 victory. The scary thing for future opponents on Michigan State’s schedule is that Tom Izzo’s team is nowhere near being a finished product.

With Valentine dealing with first-half foul trouble Bryn Forbes stepped up, scoring 13 of his 18 points to help the Spartans take a two-point lead into the half. As for the 11-0 run that Michigan State produced to take control of the game late, a host of players stepped forward in regards to scoring, rebounding and defending.

Freshmen Deyonta Davis and Matt McQuaid combined to score nine points over the final 5:32, with transfer guard Eron Harris adding six of his 12 points during that stretch. The Spartans outscored the Friars, who aren’t as deep, 22-7 during that stretch to close out the game, hunting for quality shots and hitting the offensive glass while making things difficult for Providence on the other end of the floor.

The end result was a final margin that does not indicate just how close the game was. While Providence seemed to run out of steam Michigan State received contributions from multiple players, which is undoubtedly a good sign for this group moving forward.

The Spartans will return the currently injured Gavin Schilling later this season, giving them another big man alongside Davis, Matt Costello and Colby Wollenman. He was a player they missed Sunday night, as he can defend opposing big men both in the post and on the perimeter. His absence was a main reason Michigan State didn’t have an answer for Providence’s Ben Bentil (20 points, seven rebounds) defensively.

The key for this group is going to end up being role definition, which is especially true in the case of Harris. A transfer from West Virginia, Harris came to East Lansing with the reputation of being a big time scorer. He’s struggled through the first two weeks of the season, but he got on a roll on Sunday night, finishing with 12 points, three boards and three assists. He showed he’s capable of doing a variety of things on the perimeter, and fitting into a “Swiss army knife” kind of role would make Michigan State that much more dangerous.

There’s no denying that Michigan State has been one of the nation’s best teams thus far.

But there’s also no denying that the Spartans have yet to hit their ceiling, which is definitely a positive moving forward.

Wichita State’s Anton Grady returns home with team

AP Photo/Willie J. Allen Jr.
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Wichita State forward Anton Grady was released from a hospital in Orlando on Sunday afternoon in time to return home with his Shocker teammates.

Grady suffered a spinal corn concussion on Friday when he collided head-first with an Alabama defender, snapping his head sharply to the side. He lay on the court motionless for 10 minutes after the injury and was taken off the floor on a stretcher.

[RELATED: Can WSU still make tourney?]

“I want to send out a big thank you to Shocker Nation and all of my friends and family for of the love and encouragement that I have received the past few days,” Grady said in a statement on Sunday morning. “I’ve been reading your tweets and posts and appreciate every last one of them. I have a lot of work to do to get back on the court, but with the help of such a great support system, I’m ready for the challenge.”

By Friday night, Grady had feeling in all of his extremities, but he has a long road of rehab ahead of him.