Three Takeaways from Michigan State’s Champions Classic Performance

Posted by Max Jakubowski on November 13th, 2013

Youth or experience? It was the key question posed going into Tuesday night’s showdown between Michigan State and Kentucky, and the Spartans’ experience won out after holding on for a 78-74 win over Kentucky. The Spartans will presumably be the new #1 in the polls next week, but before that, here are a few takeaways from the huge Michigan State win:

Gary Harris knows his Spartans are the new number one.

Gary Harris knows his Spartans are the new number one.

  • Michigan State will only go as far as its point guard play this season, and boy, did Keith Appling silence the critics with an incredible stat line of 22 points, seven assists, seven rebounds, four steals, and only three turnovers. Appling has been known to have turnover issues and a showing like last night will go a long way to raising the senior ‘s confidence with the ball and running the team effectively. Appling’s backcourt mate Gary Harris also contributed a huge 15-point first half performance. Along with the combined 42 points from the two Michigan State guards, both were active in intercepting the passing lanes of Kentucky and causing a total of 17 turnovers. After Kentucky had tied the game with 4:48 left, Appling hit a huge three from the corner and then Harris stole the ball and finished with a layup to put MSU up for good. Guard play in March wins championships, and if Appling and Harris can continue to make major plays like those, Tom Izzo’s squad has as good a chance as any team to make it to Dallas for the Final Four.

  • A lot of discussion leading up to the game was how Michigan State would guard Kentucky superstar Julius Randle. Adreian Payne started on Randle and then Izzo smartly rotated his star big man along with Matt CostelloGavin Schilling and Alex Gauna to guard him with fresh bodies. Foul trouble in the second half to all four of those players forced Izzo to put the smaller Branden Dawson on Randle. The freshman responded by dropping 23 points in the second half and almost brought the Wildcats all the way back to win the game. Another call for concern was that Michigan State was owned on the boards by Kentucky. Payne, Costello, Schilling and Gauna had a combined 10 rebounds compared with Randle grabbing 13 by himself.  The Spartans really need another big man to step up and provide consistent rebounding to support Payne. The freshman Schilling saw a decent amount of time last night and his athleticism is something Izzo and his staff really value. Look for him to get more time on the court as his development grows this season.
  • Players that really disappointed were two key bench players, Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice, as the two only combined for seven points off the bench. After Harris, Payne and Appling, there just wasn’t much offensive output for the Spartans. Dawson can score in the transition game and on putbacks, but he isn’t considered a guy who can break defenders down to stick a jumper. Trice and Valentine need to be relied upon to provide consistent outside shooting. The former has good range from deep and Valentine hit a three as well Tuesday. When Appling and/or Harris are on the bench, Izzo has to trust that these two can provide an offensive spark.
Max Jakubowski (14 Posts)

Max Jakubowski is in his first year writing for RTC. He is currently a student at Syracuse University. Max is originally from Chicagoland area. Besides his passion for college basketball, Max enjoys the Chicago high school basketball scene as well. Follow him on Twitter at @airmax11267

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