Don’t let the most recent results fool you. The Michigan State Spartans would’ve beaten Penn State if all five of their starters weren’t injured. Against a desperate Wisconsin Badgers team looking to stay in the thick of the Big 10 title race, Michigan State predictably struggled without point guard Keith Appling despite only losing by two. On a very deep and talented Michigan State team, Appling is Michigan State’s most valuable player.
Appling missed his second consecutive game after not missing one game in his previous 129 as a Spartan. With Appling not expected back anytime soon, the Spartans have major concerns playing without their starting point guard. The Spartans have said that they will take their time so that Appling can return when he’s at 100 percent health, but waiting too long can be just as costly. If Appling returns just before the conference tournament begins, Michigan State will struggle to gain the consistency and continuity that helped them be the No. 1 team in the nation earlier this year.
The drop off between Appling and his backup Travis Trice is the most significant on the Spartans’ roster. Trice is nowhere near the complete point guard that Appling is. Trice is a more efficient three-point shooter, but is a liability on defense and isn’t an all-around point guard. Michigan State’s offense efficiency greatly suffers when Appling is on the bench or injured.
Shooting guard Gary Harris is far and away Michigan State’s most talented player, as the high-scoring guard will be a top 15 pick should he enter this year’s draft, but without Appling’s presence on the floor, Harris is not the same player as he is with Appling distributing the ball. Against the Badgers, Harris only shot three for 20 and was held to six points.
For Appling and fellow senior Adreian Payne to avoid being the only senior class not to reach the Final Four under coach Tom Izzo, Appling not only has to be 100 percent healthy, but the star point guard also has to play like one of the best point guards in the nation.