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.