Appling key to Spartans' title hopes

Tom Izzo expects Keith Appling to be more of a playmaker than pure scorer this season. Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

I’ve seen Michigan State’s Keith Appling play for about five years now, dating back to the first time I saw him go for 40-plus points in a summer game in Cincinnati.

Appling is a scoring guard. Once a scoring guard, always a scoring guard, right? Except Tom Izzo is hoping to develop the senior into more of a true point guard.

Izzo knows he has the weapons to make a deep run this season. Adreian Payne and Gary Harris both would have been first-round draft picks, but each opted to spurn the NBA and return to East Lansing.

Branden Dawson is a different player now, 16 months removed from the torn ACL he suffered in March 2012. The lone significant loss off last season’s team was veteran big man Derrick Nix, who developed over his four-year career but still averaged only 9.9 points and 6.6 boards as a senior.

Izzo isn’t one to mince words. He’ll say when he’s concerned about his team heading into the season, and will voice specific worries about players. But when I spent an hour or so with him at the Peach Jam down in South Carolina, Izzo was oozing with optimism.