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

1 Comment

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.

UCF’s Tacko Fall to miss the rest of the season with shoulder injury

(Dan Forcella/UCF Athletics)
Leave a comment

UCF junior big man Tacko Fall will miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury, it was announced on Saturday.

College basketball’s tallest athlete at 7-foot-6, Fall is UCF’s leading scorer and shot blocker while being second in the nation in field goal percentage at 76 percent. Putting up 11.3 points and 7.9 rebounds per game in only 21.3 minutes per contest, Fall is the most unique weapon on both ends of the floor in the college basketball.

Fall is expected to have surgery on his ailing shoulder later this week as he suffered an injury over the summer that never fully recovered. Fall has also dealt with a hip injury that forced him to miss time during the season.

The Knights have been crushed with injuries this season. Aubrey Dawkins suffered a season-ending shoulder injury before the season started and promising point guard B.J. Taylor missed over two months with a foot injury suffered during the season opener against Mercer.

UCF is still having a solid season at 12-6 and 3-3 in the American but they’ll need to forge on without its big man. They’ve also lost two consecutive games and need to figure things out in a hurry to earn a spot in the postseason.

WATCH LIVE: Atlantic 10 basketball tripleheader Saturday on NBCSN

(Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

The Atlantic 10 comes to NBCSN and the NBC Sports app on Saturday with three games that will air as part of a tripleheader.

It starts with George Washington at VCU at 12:30 p.m., continues with La Salle playing at Richmond at 2:30 p.m. and concludes with George Mason traveling to Duquesne at 4:30 p.m.

CLICK HERE to watch the Atlantic 10 on NBCSN

Sexual assault investigation involving Saint Louis basketball players becoming public

(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

A messy situation could be unfolding at Saint Louis University as a sexual assault investigation involving the men’s basketball team is coming more into public focus.

Saint Louis is a private school who is going through a Title IX investigation and there hasn’t been a lot of publicity surrounding the case. Back in September, three women told police they were sexually assaulted by four members of the Saint Louis men’s basketball team at an on-campus apartment.

A lawyer for three of the four accused players is claiming that his clients committed no crime. Lawyer Scott Rosenblum spoke to Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, giving the players’ account of what happened that night in graphic detail. Rosenblum said his clients have received suspensions ranging from 18 months to two years and a fourth player was expelled.

According to Rosenblum, his clients don’t intend to stay silent as they are considering an appeal. Legal action against Saint Louis University has also been discussed.

“At the end of the day, on every college campus, unfortunately, both genders make decisions that after they walk away from that decision, they regret,” Rosenblum said to Frederickson. “They think, this maybe wasn’t the best decision. But it wasn’t a crime. And it wasn’t actionable.”

Rosenblum also claimed that Saint Louis has, “overly prosecuted with an agenda from the beginning,” as he posed several questions about the case.

One of the accused players had been allowed to play at Saint Louis while three others were held out, according to Rosenblum. The three players held out of games were also allowed to practice and travel with the team. Players were also told to move off campus, eventually welcomed back, then forced to move off campus once again. Suspensions were also handed out weeks into the new semester instead of the break between semesters.

Rosenblum’s remarks about the investigation are the most public details to come out about this investigation as Saint Louis University officials have remained silent throughout the process.

Government shutdown forces Air Force to cancel all athletic events

(AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian)
Leave a comment

The Air Force Academy has been forced to cancel all home and away games due to the government shutdown, the school announced on Saturday.

Announcing on the official Air Force Academy Twitter page, the school will attempt to reschedule as many missed events as possible.

Canceled games include a home men’s basketball game against Fresno State on Saturday and a home hockey game against Sacred Heart. According to a report from the Colorado Springs Gazette, the women’s basketball team is in Fresno, Calif., for a road game against Fresno State, but that game will also not be played.

This is an unprecedented measure for the Air Force Academy as they’ve been able to play through government shutdowns before. In 2013, the USAA gave a $230,000 check to help Air Force football travel to Navy for its game. Government shutdowns in the 1990s also never forced the cancellation of any major Air Force games in the past.

A source told NBC Sports that Army’s athletic department has not been affected as it is privately funded. Navy’s athletic department should also be able to operate and continue under the government shutdown since they are privately funded.

Without private sponsors helping, it looks like Air Force won’t be playing until the government shutdown is over. The Gazette also reported on Saturday that Air Force athletic officials knew that this could be a possibility and said it would be an “11th hour decision.”

Air Force men’s basketball is 8-10 with a 2-4 record in the Mountain West this season. While the Falcons haven’t been a major contender, they had the momentum of a small two-game winning streak heading into Saturday’s home game against Fresno State.

The Falcons are also scheduled to play on the road at Utah State on Wednesday and host Boise State next Saturday.

Bosnian professional team announces they have signed Billy Preston

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Billy Preston has signed with BC Igokea, a Bosnian professional team, according to a release put out by the club on Saturday.

“We are thrilled to welcome Billy Preston to our club,” the statement read. “We were watching his situation closely and reached out to his family to show interest and ultimately reached an agreement with the family attorney in California on a contract for the rest of the season. We know Billy is an NBA prospect so we will do our best to continue his development to help him excel for our club and fulfill his goal which is to be an NBA star in the near future.”

“Billy Preston is foregoing his eligibility to play at Kansas and has signed with a professional team in Bosnia,” head coach Bill Self said in a statement provided to NBC Sports. “Billy’s family has been very upfront telling us that his first choice was to stay at Kansas, but with the uncertainty of the situation they needed to look at other potential options. This opportunity in Bosnia came with a deadline for a decision, and the family reached that decision Friday afternoon.”

“We are all disappointed that Billy never had the opportunity to experience college basketball competition but we certainly support him and wish him the best. Although he has been frustrated with the situation, Billy’s attitude has been tremendous and he has developed as a person and as a player. I’m sure that will continue as he prepares for his professional career.”

Igokea’s roster also includes former UCLA guard Malcolm Lee, former Oregon and UTEP guard Dominic Artis and Katin Reinhardt, who played at UNLV, USC and Marquette.

Preston had enrolled at Kansas as a freshman this season, but he was involved in a car accident prior to the start of the season. He was held out from competition as the school attempted to find out who was paying for the vehicle.