MIAMI — While Michigan State’s play as of late has been far from eye-catching, the No. 13 Spartans (5-1) will head to beautiful Miami to take on the Hurricanes (3-1) in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Wednesday.
Miami is undefeated at home this season, but have yet to face a team even close to the Spartans caliber. Fortunately for the Hurricanes, they may have caught Michigan State at the perfect time.
The turnover-prone Spartans are in full effect as they have had a total of 55 turnovers in their past three games. In their most recent outing against Louisiana-Lafayette, the Spartans kept the Ragin’ Cajuns in the game with six turnovers in the final 6:04.
The Spartans were leading Louisiana-Lafayette by 10 with 3:46 left in the game when junior point guard Keith Appling turned the ball over, and unfortunately for Michigan State, the sloppiness didn’t stop there. Appling turned the ball over three times in the final four minutes causing the Ragin’ Cajuns to cut the lead to four, and gave MSU a scare of a lifetime, by the time the final buzzer hit.
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo thinks that his team has been in the spirit of giving a little early this year.
“I think our guys are going to be great citizens when they get done with basketball because the Christmas season is lasting all year,” Izzo said. “They’re giving gifts away.”
While Appling was one of the primary players giving away these presents late, he can’t be solely blamed for the Spartans turnover problems.
Appling has been the only consistent guard for MSU since freshman Gary Harris was sidelined with a left-shoulder injury in the opening minutes against Boise State on Nov. 20. Also, MSU has been without sophomore point guard Travis Trice who has missed the last five games with a concussion and broken nose.
Since the injury to Harris, Appling has been “Mr. Do It All” for the MSU backcourt as he has played an average of 38.7 mpg while averaging 20 points and nearly five assists during the three game period.
Luckily for Appling and Izzo, Trice and Harris were both able to practice Monday. Trice is in the better position to play — as I say the chances of him playing are about 75 percent — while Harris’ status is up in the air.
Regardless, any contribution from either Harris or Trice on Wednesday will help the Spartans immensely. It will bring an extra ball-handler, shooter and solid on-ball defender. Whether it’s Trice, Harris, or both, the Spartans are in need of solid guard play to compliment Appling.
If neither guard is ready to go, freshman Denzel Valentine better pick up his play, otherwise Michigan State will find themselves in a similar situation as they did against Louisiana-Lafayette.
The 6-5 guard from Lansing, Mich. has shown all of his colors in his first couple weeks of college basketball. There have been several times when Valentine looks like the best player on the floor and then there are times when he looks like he doesn’t even belong on the floor. He had his first career double-double two games ago against Oakland, and then turned around and had five turnovers and four points on 1-of-6 shooting against Louisiana-Lafayette.
Izzo needs Valentine whether the other underclassmen guards are ready to play or not because they aren’t going to get much action in their first game back regardless, and, the Hurricanes have very athletic guards.
Sophomore Shane Larkin is averaging 17.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg and 4.5 apg for Miami, and senior Durand Scott scored 15 points last game against Detroit in his first game back since serving a six-game suspension dating back to last season. These two are very solid guards that could cause a lot of issues for the Spartans if they are able to get out in transition.
If Michigan State can limit their turnovers then they should have no problem getting past Miami on the road, however, if the turnover woes continue expect this game to go down to the wire because this Hurricane team is energetic and can run the floor.
Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM ET.