Keith Appling was a heralded recruit out of high school and showed as a Freshman he could be a scorer and playmaker. Then after some attrition in the Spartan program and Tom Izzo removing some important players to the team, Appling was moved to Point Guard as a Sophomore and was above average at it.
However, during that Sophomore year, where he was the starting Point Guard on a #1 seeded NCAA Tournament team, Appling was usually not the one with the ball when it was crunch time and the Spartans absolutely needed a bucket or needed to maintain control, that was Senior Forward Draymond Green.
With a full year at PG and some new, fresh faces and a healthy Travis Trice coming in to help, it was thought that Appling would take over as a leader to replace Green. However he was not voted a captain and Izzo stated that it stung him a bit.
Anyone who watched the UCONN game in Germany saw a disheveled and sometimes lost Appling score points but struggle to lead the team and keep control of the ball. The Spartans looked better against Kansas in the first half than against UCONN but still seemed to miss the leader that can show this young team how its supposed to be done.
But, then in the second half, Keith Appling seemed to take over. He scored 16 of his 19 in the second half including two late, clutch three pointers and a game securing layup with 16 seconds left and the game on the line. At a time when Gary Harris, a freshman that had made some big baskets, looked to need someone else to take over.
Keith Appling may not be a captain, in name of this team, but he is the floor leader, the elder statesman that will have the ball in his hands on every possession and it looked like last night, he realized what he needs to do and how he needs to lead.
He doesn’t have to be the rah-rah guy Green was or even the organizer of non-coach practices, like Russel Byrd has done, but he needs to be the guy to grab the ball when its needed and show the team he can make the right play and put this team in a position to win.
After two tough early season games, the Spartans don’t play another ranked team for 18 games and that will be a home contest against Ohio State. Much like last year after some early season tests, the team had a stretch where they can work on some things and come together before the season starts to wind down.
After an ugly first loss in Germany, the Spartans may be in a better position than they were last year when they had a share of the B1G regular season title, won the conference tournament and were a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. In order to make sure they do go further, Appling needs to keep performing like he did last night in Georgia.