For the better part of this season, Michigan State junior guard Keith Appling has been the go to player for the Spartans. On numerous occasions this year, the Michigan State basketball team has put the ball in his hands and he has delivered, time and time again.
However, as of late, Appling has struggled to be that same kind of player, especially in the last couple of games. In the last two games, Appling put up just 6 points and 2 assists against Indiana while following that up with only 3 points and 1 assist at Ohio State. Needless to say, Michigan State has been affected mightily by Appling’s struggles, having dropped two straight for the first time all season.
But this Sunday, Appling and the rest of his Spartan teammates will have the opportunity to bounce back after both these tough losses as the 9th ranked Michigan State Spartans (22-6, 11-4) will make the trip to Ann Arbor take take on 4th ranked in state rival Michigan (23-5, 10-5). Tip off for the game is scheduled for 4:00 PM and will be televised on CBS.
The contest will serve as a rematch from when the two met back on February 12. In that match up, the Spartans held the upper hand, crushing the Wolverines in the Breslin by a score of 75-52. But despite the large margin of victory from the last time the two met and the fact that Michigan is coming off a stunning loss at Penn State Wednesday night, Appling is staying focused at the task at hand, realizing that Michigan is still a very dangerous opponent.
“Michigan is a pretty good team,” Appling said. ”I don’t think they’ve lost a game at home this year yet. Of course it’s going to be a very competitive game so we’re just going to have to stay focused for 40 minutes and hopefully we can pull it off.”
Nevertheless though, for Michigan State to win this game, they are going to need their star point guard to be back and playing to the level of play we’ve been accustomed to seeing over the course of this season. Some have questioned whether Appling is fading under the pressure or just simply fatigued from the heavy workload that comes with being the starting point guard, not to mention one that plays in excess of 33 minutes a game. Regardless though, he’ll need to figure it out as the Spartans enter into the home stretch of the season.
“I just gotta stay confident and trust my teammates,” Appling said. ”I’ve had the opportunity to get my legs under me and get back in the gym. It’s a long season so I just gotta suck it up. It comes with the territory. That’s the position I play. I’ve got to do the things that are asked of me in order for us to be a successful team.”
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo, who has noticed Appling’s dip in play, stands behind his point guard and believes he will be successful again.
“He’s a tough kid so he’s going to bounce back,” Izzo said. ”You don’t lose everything in two games. It doesn’t happen that way. He’s had two games where he has played un-Keith Appling like. I think that’s a tribute to hard he plays 90% of the time.”
At the end of the day though, as Appling takes to the floor Sunday evening, he along with the rest of the Spartans will be looking to bounce back against a very good Michigan team and hopefully get going back in the direction they want to be.
Follow Ryan Squanda on twitter @squandarunner