1. 3-POINT SHOOTING WILL MAKE OR BREAK THIS TEAM — THEIR CHOICE
Michigan State made a school-record 17 3-pointers in Thursday’s victory over Purdue. As a team, the Spartans (22-5, 11-3) shot 53 percent from beyond the arc, and sophomore Gary Harris — who has been in a shooting slump over the past couple of weeks — went 6 of 9 from downtown on his way to a game-high 25 points.
Harris — a player many pundits feel will be a lottery pick in the upcoming NBA Draft — is a versatile scorer, even though he doesn’t show it. While Harris has seemed to find his stroke again, he has often settled for the 3-point shot too often this year, and it’s caused him to disappear from games.
Junior Travis Trice and senior Adreian Payne both shot lights out from downtown, as they combined to go 8 of 14 from 3-point land. While Michigan State needs Trice to contribute from long distance on a consistent basis, Payne — even though his ability to shoot the ball is what distances himself from many big men across the country — needs to establish himself in the post a tad bit more because of the lack of interior offense that the Spartans possess.
MSU has a heap of shooters at their disposal, but the chances of them mimicking their performance tonight is slim to none. Payne needs to establish himself in the post more so that the Spartans can have a security blanket when they aren’t shooting well from outside. Harris needs to find different ways to score in the half court so that he doesn’t become extinct offensively when those poor shooting performances come knocking.
This team can shoot the ball, and that’s a trait that’s very important to have as a team, however, that’s not something you want to hang your hat on when your goal is a national championship.
2. ADREIAN PAYNE NEEDS TO TOUCH THE BALL EVERY POSSESSION
Will this happen? No. Should it? Yes. While I would like to see Payne planted in the post a little bit more than he has been, it would be idiotic for him not to shoot the 3-ball. Why? Because he barely grazes rim.
Payne’s ability to dominate in the post as well as shoot the ball with precision from downtown not only gives him many options to impact a game, but it opens up the floor for everyone else. He’s a solid passer that knows when to get his own shot and when to create for others.
Payne shot 8 of 14 from the field for 23 points — 4 of 8 from 3-point land — with four rebounds in the win over the Boielrmakers (15-11, 5-8). When healthy, Payne hasn’t had many poor performances this season, and his play against Purdue showed how he can affect a game without even utilizing his best asset. He’s an efficient scorer, and with the streaky shooting that often haunts MSU, Payne is the guy that should touch the ball ever possession because — with his 53 percent shooting on the season — he clearly has been finding a way to efficiently get the ball in the bucket.
3. KEITH APPLING IS EASING HIS WAY BACK
After battling a lingering wrist injury, Michigan State’s floor general Keith Appling returned to limited action in the Spartans’ 60-51 loss to Nebraska on Sunday. The senior — who’s known for his ability to create and get to the rim — was limited to only two points, and after the game said he didn’t “feel like himself” offensively.
Fast forward to the Purdue game, and Appling only had one point, but he had nine assists — seems like a simple task when your team isn’t missing. Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo brought up the possibility of shutting Appling down until postseason play, but clearly Izzo, and Appling, felt that wasn’t necessary. While he didn’t look like the Appling that seemed to be the leading candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year before getting injured, he definitely looked better than he did against the Cornhuskers.
Appling has time to get regain confidence with his teammates, and within himself, before the Big Ten Tournament, and today’s performance — while it wasn’t ideal — was a promising step forward for MSU faithful.
4. DENZEL VALENTINE CONTINUES TO RESEMBLE DRAYMOND GREEN
Yep. I said it. It’s not a profound or groundbreaking statement, but it’s definitely a statement that is blossoming into more than just hyperbole. Valentine has had a great season. He’s done, well… everything. This season, the 6-foot-5 do-it-all forward is averaging 7.8 points per game, 6.3 rebounds per game and 3.8 assists per game. His jump shot has been one of the biggest improvements from last season to this season, and he’s limiting his turnovers — Izzo’s biggest gripe about the Lansing, Mich., native.
In the midst of the Spartans’ stellar shooting performance, Valentine had 16 points (7 of 7 from the free throw line), five rebounds and four assists. He’s been everywhere for Michigan State offensively as of late, and his ability to create for others is something that is key — especially if they continue to shoot the ball this well.
5. TRAVIS TRICE MAY BE MORE PREPARED TO TAKE OVER AS STARTER NEXT YEAR THAN WE THOUGHT
When Appling went down with his wrist injury, Trice stepped in and played very efficient in his absence. In the three games that Appling missed, Trice averaged 9.7 ppg and 5 apg with no turnovers while playing while playing 34 minutes per game.
Against Purdue, Trice scored 14 points — 4 of 6 from 3-point range — and had six assists in 24 minutes.
He’s not the aggressor that Appling is — both offensively and defensively — but his ability to not make mistakes, and play efficiently, when having a bigger role is very impressive. Trice has showed in recent weeks that he can handle a larger load, and with a whole summer to prepare physically and emotionally for an increased role, there is no reason to believe that he can’t run the show for Izzo next season.