Michigan State was the preseason No. 1 team in the country, and they continue to play like one of the best teams in college basketball despite being without Adreian Payne for a fourth-straight game. The Spartans defeated the Indiana Hoosiers 71-66 on Tuesday to capture their 11th consecutive win and pushed their record to 18-1 on the season. A big reason for the continued success of the Spartans is the big play of Gary Harris. On Tuesday evening, Payne was out yet again, but Keith Appling was also hampered by a sore wrist. Michigan State needed Harris to step up and answer the call, and he did so resoundingly.
Harris has been on the NBA radar as a future prospect for each of the past two seasons — he would have been a lottery pick had he came out last season — but it is his new-found leadership, and ability to takeover in big spots that has him climbing even higher on NBA draft boards. Once Appling started to show affects of his ailing wrist, Harris came to the rescue. Michigan State was trailing by one point at halftime, then Harris exploded for 20 of his 24 points in the second half, and helped the Spartans take the win.
Harris is a bit undersized for his position, but his exceptional athleticism and quick first-step allow him to beat almost anyone off the dribble and finish at the rim. He is a bit of a streaky shooter overall, but he does have good range and can knock down open jumpers. His ability to get buckets is what’s keeping Michigan State as one of the best teams in the country even with Payne on the sidelines. In the past four games without Payne, Harris is averaging 20 points per game and is shooting 49.1 percent from the field. He has taken almost all of the scoring load left in the absence of Payne, and kept the Spartans record intact.
As of now, the Spartans are still the best team in the Big Ten; they have a two-game lead over Michigan. But if Michigan State is going to continue their hot streak in conference play, they will need to get Payne back soon. As good as Harris is, he cannot keep up this run that he is on. He is a streaky player that is riding the hot hand for now, but Michigan State needs someone who can score in the post if they are to continue winning.