Keith Appling was clearly not himself at the end of his final season with the Michigan State Spartans. Although he was healthy enough to play during MSU's NCAA Tournament run, Appling was limited by a wrist injury that he suffered earlier in the season, and the senior point guard scored just 10 points total in four tournament games.
That's a far cry from where Appling was at the outset of the 2013-14 campaign. During a challenging non-conference slate, he scored over 20 points five times while shooting the ball accurately no matter whether he was in the paint or beyond the three-point arc.
The game that whet fans' appetites for Appling the most was on November 12 against No. 1 Kentucky. In a showcase matchup on a neutral floor in Chicago, Appling maximized his potential to lead the No. 2 Spartans to a 78-74 headline-grabbing win.
Although Appling has always been more consistent as a distributor than as a leading scorer, you wouldn't know it from watching this game. Not only did he dish out eight assists and grab eight rebounds, but Appling went 2-for-4 from three-point range on his way to 22 points. He even managed to outshine Gary Harris, who poured in 20 points on Kentucky, but only recorded two rebounds and one assist for the game.
From watching those performances, scouts had to wonder which of the two guards was the top NBA prospect and which needed more seasoning. Appling also had one of his best defensive games that night. Against a talented Kentucky backcourt that featured James Young as well as the Harrison twins, he stole the ball four times to get his team some easy transition points.
By leading Michigan State in points in a signature win, many analysts figured that Appling would go on to have a banner season while leading the Spartans to the Final Four. The point guard did post career highs in shooting percentage and assists, but his point totals were hampered in Big Ten play by that unfortunate wrist injury.
Even with a limited Appling, Michigan State still game within one win of the Final Four. Hopefully the November game against a supremely talented Kentucky team will help NBA scouts remember what Appling is capable of when he's healthy.