Tracy Abrams, Gavin Schilling, Adreian Payne

Finally at full strength, Michigan State sleepwalks through loss to Illinois


For the first time since January 4th, Michigan State played a basketball game with everyone on their roster available as Branden Dawson made his triumphant return from a broken hand on Saturday afternoon.

It’s the moment that we’ve been waiting for since Gary Harris sat out his first game with a bum ankle way back in November. It was the first chance that the Spartans had to prove that the team that lost five of their last nine games wasn’t the real Michigan State. That was the tired, beat down, injury-ravaged Michigan State.

This new Michigan State, the healthy one, was going to host a disappointing Illinois team with little left to play for, a team that had lost eight straight and 10 of 11 earlier this season.

And what ended up happening?

The Illini went into the Breslin Center and smacked around the No. 18 Spartans, jumping out to a double-digit first half lead and hanging on to win 53-46.


Gary Harris scored 19 of those 46 points. He played well. Adreian Payne? He finished with four points, seven boards, just five field goals attempted and no fouls or blocks. Denzel Valentine was 1-for-6 from the floor with five turnovers. Keith Appling was 2-for-5 with four turnovers.

OK, then.

The most disconcerting part had nothing to do with the loss itself, because those happen. Everyone has off nights, even teams that are supposedly getting to full-strength and back to being a national title contender. No one — not even a Tom Izzo-coached team — is immune to a stinker.

But this wasn’t just an off-night from the Spartans. They looked completely out of it. Their fight wasn’t there, and in the end, that’s supposed to be what the difference-maker is for this group. Michigan State has a reputation for playing harder and more physical than anyone, and it just so happens that these guys are as talented as anyone in the country. That’s why the nation was enamored with them even when they didn’t have all their pieces available.

The silver lining? I doubt that Michigan State will sleepwalk through a game again, because I don’t think that anyone on that roster is going to enjoy what happens in practice the next couple of days. Effort is the only thing that an individual can control in a basketball game. They can, and I expect that they will, play harder than this for the next month.

The bigger issue may actually be Keith Appling. Michigan State’s all-Big Ten point guard is simply a shell of himself. “Keith Appling is a major problem right now because he just can’t do what he could do,” Izzo told reporters after the game. He injured his right wrist in December, and he is clearly not right. He can’t shoot, I don’t know how well he can dribble with his right hand, he’s not attacking the basket. It’s bad.

Travis Trice is a decent-enough replacement for Appling, but he’s not an all-league caliber player.

Effort issues can be fixed, but if Appling isn’t healthy, Michigan State will never truly be at full-strength.

Duke figuring out approach for this season

Duke University head basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski speaks with the media about the Blue Devils' 2013-14 basketball season, Wednesday, March 26, 2014, in Durham, N.C. (Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty Images)
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Duke is coming off of a national championship but the roster will look almost completely different for the 2015-16 season. That means last season’s approach to things on the offensive and defensive end will have to change and head coach Mike Krzyzewski mentioned to reporters on Friday how the Blue Devils are still figuring some things out.

“We’re putting in a different offensive system, to personalize it for these guys,” Krzyzewski said to reporters. “And a different defensive system so that we can max out on the talents that they have.

“We’re really proud of our team. I think we’re going to be a really good team.”

Without Jahlil Okafor in the middle, Duke’s offense could shift to a mostly perimeter-oriented team, as the wing and guard depth is superior for this year’s group.  Coach K and his staff making adjustments to schemes to fit personnel is a nice move from the Hall of Famer, as he’s done a better job in recent years of making adjustments like this after his stint with USA Basketball.

As the program moves on from Okafor, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow and Quinn Cook, it’ll be intriguing to see who emerges as a potential go-to offensive player early in the season and how Duke’s offense potentially evolves as the season wears on.

PHOTO: Ohio State’s new LeBron James shoe display

during the College Football Playoff National Championship Game at AT&T Stadium on January 12, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.
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Ohio State has capitalized on its close relationship with NBA superstar LeBron James over the years and now has a new shoe display that should come in handy during recruiting.

The Buckeyes put out a tweet late this week with the display, calling themselves “THE LeBron school.” While this is something small, recruits like that the Buckeyes are tied into the best player in the world and it’s cool to them that Ohio State gets some exclusive gear.