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Michigan State’s Keith Appling improving shooting, decision making; Gary Harris has ‘captain material’

Jul 30, 2013, 7:35 PM EDT

Memphis v Michigan State Getty Images

Following a successful 2012-2013 campaign, Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans are eyeing a return to the Final Four this April. The  expectations for Michigan State will be high this season, and the play of guard Keith Appling and Gary Harris will help dictate how far the Spartans go this season.

Entering August, the Michigan State coaching staff has been impressed with its backcourt tandem this offseason.

“I think he’s shooting with confidence,” Michigan State assistant coach Dane Fife told Diamond Leung of MLive.com. “He’s shooting with consistency. Keith had a tendency to shoot all different ways. He’d go back to his bad habits. It was, ‘Well, let’s just get it to the rim area and see what happens.’ A lot of shooters do that. His defense mechanism would turn on. ‘I know I’ve got to shoot this because I’m a Big Ten basketball player.’ So he would get it to the rim area, and that was his defense mechanism where now, he just consistently, ‘this is what I’m going to do, and it’s going in.'”

Appling, the rising senior guard, averaged a team-high 13.4 points per game. He has put last season’s off the floor issues behind him, and along with shooting the 6-foot-1 point guard want to up his assists per game, which dropped from just under four assists a game to 3.3 as a junior. Appling has more than enough options to be a good facilitator next season.

“Gary Harris should not have to work on every single play off a screen or from the NBA line and getting two dribbles,” Fife told MLive. “He shouldn’t have to do that. He should have a great point guard. Branden Dawson the same way. Adreian Payne the same way. And that’s one thing Keith has really worked on is how do I get my teammates easy shots?”

Harris elected to return for his sophomore season after winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors despite a nagging shoulder problem. Now healthy, Harris will look to bring something else to the Spartans program besides a scoring presence.

“Gary is one of those guys who’s in the gym not by himself, but with teammates,” Fife told Leung on Monday. “He’s working. He’s such a good teammate that even as going into his sophomore year, he’s a guy that we can lean on not just on the floor, but off the floor to help this team with anything that we need.

“He’s captain material. We’ve got a lot of guys that are captain material.”

This is just the latest good news to come out of East Lansing this offseason, further making the Spartans look like a strong favorite entering next season.

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