Night Line: Buffs a Dangerous Team, Although Roberson’s Uncertain Status a Concern

Posted by BHayes on March 8th, 2013

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Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

Colorado has underachieved at times this year, but don’t look towards Thursday night for any further proof of that phenomenon. Even without Andre Roberson — their breathing, eating, walking double-double, the Buffaloes blasted the Pac-12 leading Oregon Ducks. The boys from Eugene will take their 23-point thrashing and now head to Utah, where focus for Dana Altman’s crew will shift to earning at least a share of the Pac-12 title. Back in Boulder much of the discussion will center around Roberson’s availability moving forward. Tad Boyle announced that a viral illness has the junior on the mend, with no official timetable set for his return. Roberson’s absence will surely have an impact – he is far too talented and effective for it not to. But if Thursday night taught us anything, it’s that these Buffaloes are more than capable enough to be a headache come Tournament time – with or without Roberson.

With Andre Roberson Sidelined, Tad Boyle Will Look For Even More Production And Leadership Out Of Spencer Dinwiddie

With Andre Roberson Sidelined, Tad Boyle Will Look For Even More Production And Leadership Out Of Spencer Dinwiddie

If the old cliché holds true and good guard play really does win in March, Tad Boyle has to feel pretty good about his odds this month. Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie may not be household names, but the duo makes up one of the best (and most underrated) backcourts in the country. Dinwiddie has seen his numbers rise across the board in his sophomore season, with his 15.2 ppg and 3.0 apg leading the team. He has struggled from the field of late –18-63 in his last five — but his ability to get to the line (and convert) has been a constant this season, as he has gone 39-43 from the stripe over that stretch. Same story for the dynamic lead guard tonight, with his 3-9 line from the field offset nicely by nine made free throws, seven rebounds, and six assists. His backcourt mate Booker is a more limited player, but the fellow sophomore chips in with over 12 points a game and is another capable ballhandler — a definite plus for a team with a relatively raw frontcourt.

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March Losing Streak Suddenly Raises Doubts About Canes

Posted by BHayes on March 7th, 2013

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Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

The Miami Hurricanes spent January and February making believers out of skeptics, filling a bandwagon that had never, ever been even close to full. It takes no stretch of the imagination to believe in a Duke or a Carolina team that races out to a hot ACC start, but Miami? A program with just six NCAA Tournament appearances in its history? For us to trust the Canes, they had to be spectacular – and spectacular they were. Thirteen ACC wins in a row, including a sweep of UNC and a blowout win over Duke, practically sealed the ACC regular season title, and all this before the first day of March. They looked like the best team in the league, and a legitimate national title contender to boot.

Jim Larranaga Could Not Have Loved Miami's Effort This Evening, But The Canes And Their Head Man Still Harbor Large Tournament Hopes

Jim Larranaga Could Not Have Loved Miami’s Effort This Evening, But The Canes And Their Head Man Still Harbor Large Tournament Hopes

Both those proclamations may still be true, but back-to-back losses to begin the most important month in college basketball will again have the magnifying lenses hovering over the Canes. The loss at Cameron on Saturday (by just three points and with Ryan Kelly not only active but also having the game of his life) did little to damage Miami’s long-term prognosis. They still looked like the tough, veteran team that had ripped through this ACC slate — no problems there. But with that defeat now a part of a losing streak after tonight’s egregious home loss to Georgia Tech, we start to worry a little bit. There are questions again, and the doubt seeps back in with disturbingly little difficulty, because why did we really believe in the Miami Hurricanes to begin with?

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Night Line: Buckeyes Find Signature Win In Bloomington

Posted by BHayes on March 6th, 2013

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Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

They don’t come much better than this. In fact, they might not come any better than this. Ohio State walked out of Assembly Hall with a convincing 67-58 victory over Indiana on Tuesday night, securing a resume-defining win that could easily be considered the scalp of the year in college basketball this season. Only Wisconsin can join the Buckeyes in saying they walked out of Bloomington victorious in 2012-13, but the Badgers didn’t have to do it on Senior Night, nor with the rights to a Big Ten title on the line. Neither factor seemed to matter much to the Buckeyes, who put together a near-flawless final 10 minutes to earn the win. The loss for the Hoosiers may raise questions about their presumptive status as the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, but it also may serve as a perception-changer for the Bucks. Crazy as it sounds, one massive win may be all it takes to erase from the memory banks a season’s worth of misses versus the Big Ten’s upper echelon. Ohio State suddenly feels like a March contender.

Aaron Craft And Ohio State Did Their Best To Spoil Senior Night At Indiana

Aaron Craft And Ohio State Did Their Best To Spoil Senior Night At Indiana

It’s been business as usual in Columbus in many ways this season — another 20-win campaign, 12 more Big Ten victories (after tonight), a high seed awaiting on Selection Sunday. But these Buckeyes have flown a course far further off the national radar than Thad Matta teams of years past. Tonight’s startling victory may change that trajectory, but a glance at the Buckeyes’ profile also begs the question of why it took us so long to notice. Sure, the Bucks whiffed in a lot of big spots this season. But when you take inventory of their schedule (a whopping nine games against teams in KenPom’s current top 11), it’s pretty evident that a lot of good teams might have suffered the same fate given the circumstances. A handful of those games were there for their taking, with contests at Duke, Michigan and Michigan State all fitting that bill, so it isn’t as if they did much to embarrass themselves in those defeats. Tonight’s win doesn’t erase all doubts about the Bucks, but it puts previous missteps in a far more forgivable light.

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Night Line: Harris and Wahoos Deliver on the National Stage

Posted by BHayes on March 1st, 2013

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Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

When it comes to this Virginia basketball season, the juxtaposition between team on the floor and paper resume has been startling. Tony Bennett’s consistently solid, fundamental approach somehow gave birth to a resume as polarizing as his team is steady; a profile littered with big wins (at Wisconsin) and bad losses (Old Dominion) alike, a 27-game sample of work that left ranking metrics confused enough to place the Wahoos anywhere from #16 (KenPom) to #67 (RPI). Nobody has known exactly what to make of the Cavaliers, so Thursday night’s nationally televised match-up with Duke seemed like as good a time as ever to figure out what Virginia was all about. Thirty-six Joe Harris points and one massive defense of its home court later, and it finally seems like we have a team and resume beginning to match up a little better. What does that convergence mean for the Cavaliers? In all likelihood, another appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

If You Didn't Know Joe Harris Before Thursday Night, Now You Do.  The Junior Poured In 36 Points Against #3 Duke.

If You Didn’t Know Joe Harris Before Thursday Night, Now You Do. The Junior Poured In 36 Points Against #3 Duke.

Joe Harris was probably a revelation for most of the national audience this evening, as Virginia’s modest profile and slowwwww tempo (only nine teams in Division I have fewer possessions per game) had left the Cavaliers star under the national radar. No longer. Harris dominated the Blue Devils from the opening tip, scoring his career-high 36 from almost every spot on the floor. He hit outside shots, beat both forwards and guards off the dribble, and collected rebounds and loose balls in the painted area. The junior should be a cinch for first team all-ACC but also deserves serious consideration in an ACC POY race that suddenly lacks a clear winner – he has been that good, even before this evening. His 16.6 points per contest makes him one of just two Cavs who average more than seven points a game (Justin Anderson and his 12 PPG being the other), nearly single-handedly replacing the production of departed all-ACC first-teamer Mike Scott. A number of teammates have chipped in with necessary contributions to make UVA the surprise team in the ACC, but Tony Bennett’s club would not be sitting on the precipice of the NCAA Tournament without Joe Harris.

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Night Line: More ACC Road Woes For Maryland: Are the Terps Down and Out?

Posted by BHayes on February 28th, 2013

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Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

The chaotic final weeks before the NCAA Tournament have everyone clamoring for clarity, and as simple and as fun as it would be to announce that yes, you did hear a giant “POP” coming from Atlanta this evening, the reality is that Maryland’s at-large hopes haven’t completely vanished. Yet. With games growing few and their ACC record worsening, a 78-68 loss to Georgia Tech tonight has slid the Terps one step closer to the bubble chopping block. Three regular season games remain for Mark Turgeon’s bunch, with two road dates involved (at Wake Forest and Virginia) and a home finale against North Carolina. If Maryland wants to hear its name called on Selection Sunday, they would be well served to snag all three — no easy feat, but when you consider that accomplishing it would triple Maryland’s ACC road win total, a hard road starts to feel nearly impossible.

Mark Turgeon Was At A Loss For Words After Another Maryland Road Loss

Mark Turgeon Was At A Loss For Words After Another Maryland Road Loss

February 7, Blacksburg, Virginia – Maryland won a game on a basketball court not inside the Comcast Center, an accomplishment that had not occurred since November, and has not happened since. A difficult fact to process considering the Terps were likely on the right side of the bubble after the seismic Duke victory on February 16, but it’s hard to make a case for your NCAA Tournament inclusion when you can’t win more than a single road game.

Give Georgia Tech credit tonight, as the Jackets made a lot of plays they don’t normally make. Brian Gregory said it was the best 40 minutes his team has played all season, and Turgeon was effusive with praise for the home team. “Tech was good tonight, they were really good” he admitted, but he couldn’t quite seem to put his finger on what ailed his team — both tonight and on the road all season. Sure, there were criticisms – poor point guard play, a lack of toughness in the paint, too much 1-on-1 offensively – but you could tell that even Turgeon felt at a loss for answers. “I did think we tried hard,” he concluded, but with a resignation in his voice that suggested a full awareness that effort alone will not get his team to the Dance.

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Night Line: Vols Making Habit of February Revival

Posted by BHayes on February 27th, 2013

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Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

Attention bubble dwellers – it is time to make room for the Tennessee Volunteers. After a rousing victory over the SEC’s best in #8 Florida, the Vols are officially back in the NCAA Tournament picture. If you are feeling as if you have seen this movie before, it’s probably because you have. A year ago, Cuonzo Martin’s club ripped off eight victories over the course of its last nine regular season games, overcoming a disastrous 10-12 beginning to find their way into the March bubble talk. Losing to Ole Miss in their SEC Tournament opener would ultimately relegate last year’s Vols to the NIT, but this season’s bunch has a chance to script a different ending. More work left to be done for certain, but a late February six-game winning streak is a good place to start if you are looking to re-enter the NCAA discussion.

Trae Golden Has Been One Of The Major Catalysts For The Volunteer Revival

Trae Golden Has Been One Of The Major Catalysts For The Volunteer Revival

While the Vols may have reached their aesthetical nadir back in December after posting a total of 74 points in two games against Georgetown and Virginia (yes, I said total), it isn’t as if Cuonzo Martin’s club is all of a sudden winning pretty. Their adjusted tempo still places them in the bottom fifth of Division I basketball, and Tuesday night’s win over the Gators saw just one Vol in double figures, with Jordan McRae continuing his strong play by posting a game-high 27 points. Grinding pace aside, the team’s overall offensive efficiency (53rd nationally) is not bad, but the Vols are heavily reliant on getting to the free throw line and pounding the offensive glass — blue-collar efforts that may or may not appeal to the average fan, but that the tough-as-nails Martin has to love.

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Night Line: Cal Pushes Distractions Aside to Become Unlikely Pac-12 Title Contenders

Posted by BHayes on February 21st, 2013

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Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

If you are a college basketball fan and don’t reside under a rock, you know all about Mike Montgomery and Allen Crabbe’s testy exchange on Sunday. An unfortunate incident worthy of at least most of the debate and discussion that followed, but it’s officially time to move on, folks. Don’t despair if you still want to talk Cal basketball, however, as the Golden Bears are providing plenty of reasons on the court to keep the buzz going. A 48-46 win at Oregon tonight now has them winners of four in a row and six out of seven, with wins over Arizona, UCLA, and now a season sweep of Oregon included in the surge. For those keeping track at home, that’s a win over each of the top three teams in the Pac-12 standings, with a respectable loss at Arizona State standing as the only February blemish. Winning hasn’t always been pretty or easy for the Bears, but they are suddenly as likely a candidate as any to steal the Pac-12 regular season title. Yes, you read that right – California, once 3-4 in league play, could wind up as your Pac-12 champs.

Allen Crabbe Was Relatively Quiet On Thursday Night, But His Pac-12 Player Of The Year Profile Grows With Every Golden Bear Victory

Allen Crabbe Was Relatively Quiet On Thursday Night, But His Pac-12 Player Of The Year Profile Grows With Every Golden Bear Victory

Give credit to the collective resourcefulness of the Bears, the coaching of Montgomery, and the proficiency of Crabbe (his Pac-12 POY stock soaring right now), but the reason the recent push has the Bears sitting with realistic championship dreams has far more to do with every other team in the conference. After spending the 2011-12 season facing constant derision (and deservedly so), the Pac-12 conference has bounced back in a big way this year. Recent bracket projections have included as many as six conference teams in the NCAA Tournament field, a development that would be a veritable windfall for a league that sent just one at-large team to the Dance a year ago.

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Night Line: UConn Takes Last Act of Memorable Big East Rivalry

Posted by BHayes on February 14th, 2013

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Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

The Big East is larger than two programs, but for the better part of the last three decades, it’s been next to impossible to think of Big East basketball without Syracuse or UConn coming to mind. They have proven worthy flag-bearers for one of the best and proudest basketball conferences in America, but with Syracuse flying the coop after this season and UConn ineligible for Big East tournament play, Wednesday night would be the final time the two programs would meet as league rivals. A nostalgic night indeed, but brace yourself — as the Big East (at least as we have known it) splinters apart over the next 13 months, there will be many more nights of sifting through the memories. But on this first night of bracing for life after the (old) Big East, it was a young team, led by a rookie coach who stole the show.

Jim Boeheim And Syracuse's Final Big East Trip To UConn May Have Stirred Memories, But Did Not Net The Orange A Win

Jim Boeheim And Syracuse’s Final Big East Trip To UConn May Have Stirred Memories, But Did Not Net the Orange a Win

A failing APR score will cost UConn a berth in the NCAA Tournament this season, but give the Huskies credit: Once the talent exodus from Storrs was complete, few thought the ban would actually cost UConn anything. The Huskies have instead proved themselves Tournament-worthy over and over again in this resilient campaign, and the once-doubted Kevin Ollie has secured a long-term future in the Nutmeg State.

The two biggest reasons for UConn’s success were as important as ever on Wednesday night. Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright combined to efficiently pick apart the Syracuse zone, totaling 27 points (on 16 shots) and 11 assists between them. The two lead guards have flourished under the 40-year old Ollie, who has entrusted his pair of play-makers with a freedom and confidence that Jim Calhoun (bless his heart, and his three National Championships) never did. No longer must Boatright and Napier fear a quick pull, or a (screaming, maniacal) voice in their ear after a bad shot or turnover. The result has been the formation of a backcourt that is as cocksure as it gets. UConn may be a team with nothing else to play for, but Kevin Ollie has twisted that fact into a different reality – the Huskies are simply playing with house money, and the riches are growing every week.

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Night Line: Clarity Proves Ever Elusive in Wacky Missouri Valley Conference

Posted by BHayes on February 13th, 2013

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Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

Back in January, there was a time where we thought we actually knew what was going on in the Missouri Valley Conference. We were confident that Creighton was a top-10 team and that Wichita State was nearly as good as the Shockers of a year ago. Surely Illinois State had been exposed as a fraud, a once trendy sleeper pick to win the league before losing their first six conference games. And our early January convictions on Missouri State? Entering conference play without a D-I win, the Bears looked like one of the worst teams in the country, much less the Valley.

Jake Odum And Company Took A Loss Tuesday Night They Really Could Not Afford

Jake Odum And Company Took A Loss Tuesday Night That They Really Could Not Afford

Well, at least Evansville and Northern Iowa have avoided confusing us too much over the past month. The constantly evolving complexion of the conference took on yet another look Tuesday night, as Indiana State suffered a costly 67-65 loss at the hands of Missouri State. The Sycamores had been one of the league’s positive stories of late, as a recent surge had them entering Springfield as MVC co-leaders. If you are looking for narratives from the other side of the ledger, look no further than those of ISU’s fellow top-of-the-Valley dwellers, Creighton and Wichita State. The Bluejays have toiled through multiple losing streaks in the past month, and in what should be a daunting task, will take the floor at the McLeod Center tomorrow night seeking to avoid stretching their current losing streak to three. Wichita State can tell the Jays all about three-game losing streaks, as a mind-numbing loss to Southern Illinois highlighted the Shockers’ recent skid. Wichita and Creighton are still far closer to being in the field of 68 than out, but if current trajectories hold, it won’t be long before these losses become as crippling as Indiana State’s was tonight.

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Night Line: TCU Stuns Kansas in an Upset to Remember

Posted by BHayes on February 7th, 2013

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Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

On a Wednesday night chock-full of college basketball action, nobody could have expected the story of the night to come from Fort Worth, Texas. Pairing a TCU team seeking its first Big 12 win with a Kansas squad fresh off a home loss to Oklahoma State would seem to rank pretty high on the combustibility scale, but enter a twist: It was Kansas who went up in flames tonight. The Horned Frogs snatched a win to remember in the midst of an otherwise forgettable season, and college basketball fans bore witness to one of the biggest upsets of the last decade. Jerry Palm went so far as to mention that this was the biggest upset — in terms of RPI difference — in his 20 years of tracking numbers. The 62-55 win was as ugly as it was unexpected, but if you love a good upset (and what college basketball fan doesn’t love that), this was as beautiful as it gets.

There Was Much To Celebrate For TCU On Wednesday Night

There Was Much To Celebrate For TCU On Wednesday Night

Explaining the inexplicable is not a favorite pastime of mine, but I’ll take a shot here. As bad as TCU is, the bulk of their issues have come on one side of the ball. Trent Johnson’s offense, valued at #330 nationally in efficiency, has been a nightmare. The defensive effort has been slightly better, although the national ranking of #137 in defensive efficiency still couldn’t have worried Bill Self too much before tip-off. Afterward he was too consumed with his own team’s failings to marvel at the Horned Frog D, but the point is that this was the kind of game TCU had to create to have a shot to win. They weren’t going to beat Kansas playing deep into the 60s, let alone the 90s, and it took a truly anemic KU offensive effort to allow TCU this win.

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Night Line: Dominating Display From Arkansas Revives Tournament Hopes

Posted by BHayes on February 6th, 2013

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Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

About a year and two weeks ago, Mike Anderson’s Arkansas team took down Michigan in a nationally-televised game at Bud Walton Arena. The Arkansas faithful had long waited for a win like this — their native son back and at the helm, famed arena alive again. The Razorbacks also walked off the floor with a 14-5 record and tentative March reservations, but the next two months would show why rebuilding jobs rarely happen overnight. Arkansas went just 4-9 after Trey Burke missed that three at the buzzer, finishing the season with an underwhelming 6-10 SEC record. Flash forward to this season, and this Tuesday night: Another marquee opponent in Fayetteville, national TV audience again watching at home, and Mike Anderson’s team in dire need of a signature victory. They got the massive win once again, this time dismantling #2 Florida — yes, that #2 Florida, who entered the night winners of 10 straight games. The Gators left Fayetteville losers of one straight game, and the Razorbacks are proud new owners of one of the single best victories of the season. It’s a win that will shine come Selection Sunday, but the Razorbacks have plenty of work to do to make that day even matter. The challenge is not just avoiding the late-year collapse of a season ago, but actually making a February push for inclusion in the field of 68.

BJ Young And The Razorbacks Were Dynamite On Tuesday Night

BJ Young And The Razorbacks Were Dynamite On Tuesday Night

Tonight, Arkansas accomplished many things that Mike Anderson preaches on a nightly basis. First and foremost for Anderson is forcing turnovers, and the Hawgs’ frenetic defense caused 16 Florida giveaways tonight. Many of the miscues resulted in transition opportunities for the home team, and Coty Clarke and company did well in turning those opportunities into finishes — many of them of the emphatic variety. Arkansas also did a serviceable job on the glass, ending the game essentially even in the category with the bigger, more physical Gators. The Razorbacks were the aggressor from the opening tip, and only a late Florida push made this final score respectable.

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Night Line: In Typical Izzo Fashion, Sparty Quietly Humming Along

Posted by BHayes on January 31st, 2013

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Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

In many ways, keep moving along — there is not a whole lot to see here. February is beginning, the Michigan State Spartans are near the top of the Big Ten, and March expectations are high in East Lansing. Per usual, Tom Izzo’s crew has arrived at its current position with little pomp or flair, again embracing a gritty, determined approach that has come to define the Green and White. Perhaps the familiarity of the exercise is why the Spartans have largely flown under the radar this season, a lack of attention surely aided by playing in a conference loaded with Top 25 teams. Either way, it’s taken more than Tom Izzo and the Michigan State brand to answer all those questions that surrounded Sparty back in November, and if you are looking for reasons why this has become yet another vintage Izzo team, the continued development of a pair of juniors would be a good place to start.

Juniors Keith Appling and Adreian Payne Have Been Major Catalysts For The Continued Spartan Success

Juniors Keith Appling and Adreian Payne Have Been Major Catalysts For The Continued Spartan Success

Back in November, if you asked Tom Izzo which of his players needed to be great for his team to meet or exceed expectations, it would have taken him all of 0.2 seconds to tell you that player was Keith Appling. The former McDonald’s All-American had a nice sophomore season a year ago, but with senior leader Draymond Green’s eligibility expiring, the onus fell on the normally reserved Appling to take the reins of this group of Spartans. And while his statistical profile suggests that Appling is producing at a similar rate to a year ago, the junior has done exactly what Izzo needed him to do – take control of this team. Appling did it all the way back in November, when he took over a close game late to help hand Kansas what is still their only loss of the year. He did it again this evening, coming up with all the key plays down the stretch, the most emphatic of which occurred when he split a double-team then delivered a perfect lob to teammate Branden Dawson for a resounding dunk. But more importantly, in between that victory over KU and the defeat of the Illini tonight, there has been little doubt as to who is running this Michigan State team – an important answer to a question that lingered all summer in East Lansing.

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