Keith Appling leads No. 2 Michigan State to a 78-74 win over No. 1 Kentucky


CHICAGO — No. 2 Michigan State, the national title favorite chocked full of veteran all-americans, had completely outclassed their more hyped counterparts from Kentucky on Tuesday night, riding the hot hands of Adreian Payne and Gary Harris to a first half lead that grew to as much as 15-points.

But Kentucky came back. They fought and they scrapped and they rode the broad shoulders of potential No. 1 pick Julius Randle, tying the game at 66 when Randle knocked down a pair of free throws with just under five minutes left in the game. The Wildcats had all the momentum, making their run despite the inability to make a free throw, and the fans in green and white had come to expect the worst.

Keith Appling had an answer, however. The senior point guard put a bow on one of the best games of his career, drilling a three from the corner to break the tie. On the ensuing inbounds, Andrew Harrison, Kentucky’s freshman point guard, threw the ball directly to Harris, who went right to the rim and scored, giving the Spartans a five point lead they would never relinquish. Tom Izzo’s club would go on to win 78-74.

Appling finished with 22 points, eight assists, seven boards and four steals while Harris chipped in with 20 points and Payne added 15 of his own.

Branden Dawson finished with eight points and nine boards, three of which came on the offensive end. His tip-in with 5.8 seconds left in the game was the final margin, giving the Spartans a two-possession lead.

Down the stretch, it was the veteran leadership of Michigan State that shined through. The Spartans made big plays when they were needed. They hit big shots in pressure moments. And outside of a questionable turnnover by Appling in the final minute, generally played flawless basketball when the lights were shining the brightest.

Kentucky? They missed open threes. They couldn’t hit free throws, going 20-36 from the charity stripe. The Harrison twins reacted poorly on too many calls that didn’t go their way. You know what that’s a sign of? Youth. Inexperience. A bunch of freshmen playing their first game with real pressure.

The talent on the Wildcats roster is simply undeniable. Julius Randle finished with 27 points and 13 boards, numbers that would have looked even better if he hadn’t committed eight turnovers. Trust me when I say this: the hype surrounding Kentucky is real. It’s deserved.

And if anything, a loss this early in the season will help. You wanna know a good way to burnout a bunch of 19 year olds? Turn every game they play into the pursuit of a perfect season.

Kentucky will be fine.

There’s no shame in losing the way Kentucky lost.

Michigan State playing zone? It’s possible

Tom Izzo
Associated Press
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Throughout Tom Izzo’s tenure at Michigan State the team’s half-court man-to-man defense has been a staple, and the Spartans have generally proven difficult to have a high rate of offensive success against. The reliance on that defense is why Izzo’s conversations earlier this summer about using some token full-court pressure due to the shortening of the shot clock caught some people off-guard.

According to the Detroit Free Press there’s another wrinkle the Spartans may use, and it’s likely that this wrinkle will show up more often than the full-court press. During Friday’s opening practice the Spartans worked on a 2-3 zone, and Izzo wants his assistants to make sure the team works on the defense consistently throughout the season.

That’s also why zone in general isn’t going to get heavy play at MSU, but having it as a tool could be beneficial — especially in games with touch fouls on the perimeter called in droves.

“I told (my assistant coaches): ‘You hold me accountable to working on it every day some’ … I have a tendency to drift off on that, and I don’t want to drift off on it,” Izzo said of the 2-3 zone. “But we will be, rest assured, a 90-some percent man-to-man team still and hopefully take some of those principles to zone.”

As noted in the story one of the risks in using pressure is allowing quality shots, which is why it’s unlikely that Michigan State will go to it. But even with Izzo vowing that his team will work on the zone, that doesn’t mean they’ll be playing it as often as Syracuse does.

Man-to-man has been Michigan State’s staple and it will continue to be. But it doesn’t hurt to look for other ways to keep opponents from getting the looks they want, especially if teams have five fewer seconds to find those shots.

Virginia used 3-on-3 to adjust to new shot clock

Malcolm Brogdon
Associated Press
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When the college basketball rules committee made the decision to trim the shot clock down to 30 second from 35, one reason for the switch was the desire to improve offensive production. With offensive numbers at their lowest point in years, proponents of the move see the shot clock change as a necessary move if scoring is to improve.

Whether or not that winds up being the case will be seen throughout the upcoming season, but teams are still having to make adjustments during the preseason.

Virginia, which has played at a snail’s pace (and with great success, mind you) in recent years, made some adjustments to their summer work in anticipation of playing with a 30-second shot clock. One adjustment was more games of 3-on-3 with a 15-second shot clock, which forced all involved to be more decisive in their offensive decision-making.

While the pack-line defense will always be a staple of Tony Bennett’s teams, the feeling in Charlottesville is that they’ve got the offensive firepower needed to both play faster and be more efficient offensively than they were in 2014-15 (29th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy). One of the players who will lead the way is senior guard Malcolm Brogdon, who led the team in scoring and was a first team All-ACC selection, and he discussed the team’s outlook with Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

And even though Anderson’s highlight-reel shot blocking was the thing that frequently fueled fast-breaks for U.Va. last season, Brogdon and [Anthony] Gill said they expect this year’s team to actually push the tempo even more.

“I think we’re going to be a team that gets out and runs more,” Brogdon said. “I think we’ll have three guards on the floor, most of the time, will be able to handle the ball as a point guard and get out in transition. I think we’ll play a lot faster.”

Brogdon and Gill are two of the team’s three returning starters with point guard London Perrantes being the other, and the Cavaliers also return most of their reserves from last year’s rotation. That experience will help them on both ends of the floor as they prepare for a run at a third straight ACC regular season title. And in theory it also allows them to extend themselves a bit more offensively than they did a season ago.