Welp, here we are friends. Two games left in the Big 10 regular season, and SOMEHOW Michigan State is still in the running for a share of the conference title, despite losing its last three games. (For more on all the Big Ten scenarios, Rexrode has you covered.) The thing is, aside from going 0-2 against Indiana, the Spartans have split with every other competitive team in the Big Ten, and all the other top teams keep losing. So, as MSU heads into Thursday’s game against Wisconsin, we’ll take a look at who’s showing captain-like qualities, and who has to walk the plank.
Also, you might want to get out your best corn-colored attire for the Indiana/Michigan game on Sunday, because in addition to beating Wisconsin, MSU needs the Wolverines to beat Indiana in order to force a four-way conference title tie (Indiana, OSU, UM and MSU).
On to the Boat!
Captain: It has never been more obvious that the captain of the Spartan Boat is Adreian Payne. In the losses against OSU, Michigan and Indiana he showed the most hustle on the floor, and continued his unbelievable three-point shooting, which helped keep Michigan State in all three close games. Payne had 12 boards and 14 points against Michigan, and his stats for the three games previous are just as impressive. 15-12 against OSU, 7-17 against Indiana, 14-15 against Nebraska. For a team that looks like they are lacking in energy and focus, Payne is playing with twice as much hustle and focus as anyone else. There’s a lot of talk about how this team lacks a leader…Why can’t it be Payne?
First Mate: Gary Harris. LOOK. I will not entertain any arguments about Harris’s late turnover or missed FT against Indiana. Harris is the best freshman in the country (since Nerlins Noel tore his ACL) and as the only non-Payne player scoring consistently, he’s kept MSU in games where they should have been trailing by double-digits. His last five games scoring totals: 16, 14, 19, 14 and 17 pts. Without Gary Harris, MSU does not even sniff the Big Ten conference title.
Second Mates: Derrick Nix and Travis Trice. Nix has not been stunning lately, but he’s been good and consistent. He is, maybe, the best free throw shooter on the team currently. Sometimes he is maddeningly Nix-like, but he doesn’t make me have a rage blackout, so there you go.
Trice showed that his game is returning, after being out for what seems like a year with concussion symptoms. He made several 3s against UM and seems to be re-finding his feet, although Izzo didn’t appear to love the way the offense ran with him at the helm. Welcome back, Trizzle!
Freshman Crow’s Nest: Denzel Valentine and Matt Costello Honestly, would love if MSU could involve these two more, as they’ve shown a lot for young guys. But their minutes are important to the team’s depth, and both are playing fairly solid basketball.
Tropical Island Vacation: Keith Appling. Keith, oh Keith. What is your life? This regression to last season’s mean is inexplicable and frustrating. We all know you’re not a “natural” PG, whatever that means, but there’s no reason for you to just forget how to play basketball sometimes. You’re also in a shooting slump, which is unfortunate. You played better against Michigan, which was encouraging, but made idiot mistakes down the stretch, which was heartbreaking. You were so clutch and icy at the beginning of the season! How can we help you? One thing’s for sure, this team needs you to have any hope at the Final Four run, so we hope you get lots of hugs and stuff and figure yourself out soon.
Walk the Plank: Branden Dawson. DAWSON. You are an idiot. Speaking of people who look like they’ve never played basketball before, you missing bunny after bunny is INFURIATING. If you can’t make a layup, what good are you to an NBA team? We’re all glad your knee is well-healed, but maybe now you need to focus up on not making the world’s most baffling passes, remembering how to put the ball through the hoop and drive the lane. You are a physical freak and one of the most athletic players in the Big Ten. ACT LIKE IT.