Biggest hole to fill for Michigan State Basketball: Harris, Payne or Appling?

The 2013-14 season didn’t end in the storybook way that so many people expected it to for the Michigan State Basketball team. It’s impossible to tell whether the jinx from President Obama or Shabazz Napier had more to do with it, but either way the Spartans failed to reach the Final Four in what turned out to be the last season for Gary Harris, Keith Appling and Adreian Payne.

Those three players were undoubtedly the biggest reasons that Michigan State was in the position to make it the the Final Four last season. Harris and Payne were scoring machines who were both recently taken in the top-20 of the NBA Draft and Keith Appling was the glue that held the offense together.

It won’t be easy to replace any one of these three great players, but which one will leave the toughest hole for Tom Izzo to fill?

GARY HARRIS

Gary  Harris was one of the best two-way players of the Tom Izzo era

Gary Harris was one of the best two-way players of the Tom Izzo era

A legitimate argument could be made that Gary Harris was the best player on the Michigan State roster his entire two-year college career. His freshman year he scored 12.9 points per game and shot over 41 percent from deep en route to winning B1G Freshman of the Year honors. Speculation swirled after the season ended that he would bolt for the draft, but Harris decided he had more work to do at MSU.

Harris’ shooting numbers decreased his sophomore year but his overall game made significant improvements. He took the ball to the basket with authority much more often and was looking to score in ways other than 3-point shooting. That is what made him a first round NBA Draft pick and what Tom Izzo and Michigan State will miss most about him.

In addition to his scoring prowess, Harris also managed to become a lockdown defender by the end of his sophomore campaign. It isn’t easy to find someone as athletically gifted as Harris, but Tom Izzo can make almost anyone with a good work ethic into a solid defender so the defense probably isn’t what’s worrying him about losing Harris.

Gary Harris brought a lot of things to the table for Michigan State and he will surely be missed by Tom Izzo and company this season.

ADREIAN PAYNE

If there is a better story out there in the world of sports than that of Adreian Payne, I would love to hear it. Payne’s ability to overcome adversity that would have brought most people to their knees is astounding. He not only fought through his own personal obstacles, but also managed to touch the life of a little angel known by the Spartan family as Princess Lacey. The inspiration that Payne’s relationship with Lacey brought to not only the basketball team, but to the entire MSU community is impossible to replace–and I haven’t even gotten to basketball yet.

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Payne became an absolute force his senior year scoring 16.4 points per game, pulling down over 7 rebounds per contest and shooting over 42 percent from deep. He was a walking mismatch all season long and the Spartans took advantage of it often as Payne attempted over 16 field goals per 40 minutes, the highest mark on the team.

Payne’s impact on the Michigan State Basketball program goes far beyond his accomplishments on the court, and for that he will be sorely missed by everyone in the MSU community.

KEITH APPLING

Almost his entire career at Michigan State was spent learning to transform himself from a shoot-first two guard into a point guard who could run the show. There were bumps along the way, but in Appling’s senior year he seemed to really figure it out.

It’s probably hard for most Spartan fans to remember, but last season before injuring his wrist Keith Appling was carrying the team. He was playing at such a high level that some people saw him as the early frontrunner for B1G Player of the Year.

That wrist injury ended up costing Appling more than just the games he missed, it cost him almost his entire offensive repertoire. He wasn’t able to score effectively after coming back from injury, but that didn’t stop him from contributing all he could to his team. Appling never became the type of vocal leader that Tom Izzo wanted him to become, but his toughness and desire to win set the tone for the rest of the team.

Appling’s presence as the primary ball-handler for the Spartans is going to be severely missed, but his toughness and grit are what Michigan State will miss most.

MY PICK

A strong case could be made for any of the three, but there is no way that Izzo will be able to replace Adreian Payne. Whether you’re talking on the court where he is a 6-foot-10 scoring machine, or off the court where he has managed to inspire an entire community, there is only one Adreian Payne.

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