It turned out Connecticut’s guards were better than any other team in this NCAA tournament — Kentucky, Florida and Michigan State included.
MSU once had a similar backcourt, with Kentucky- and Florida-type pieces around it.
If I were Tom Izzo or Keith Appling, or any member of MSU’s program from November through early January, I’m not sure watching UConn’s Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright dribble around and shoot over the talented and youthful Wildcats Monday night would make me feel any better.
Yes, the team that beat the Spartans in the regional finals won it all, showing its dizzying spurts, backcourt-based defensive pressure and wiry interior defenders could hold up against anyone in college basketball.
Except maybe MSU, as it once was.
When the Spartans beat Kentucky, 78-74, on Nov. 12 in Chicago, they had a Napier-Boatright backcourt. That’s was Appling and Gary Harris were, in tandem — both that night, when they combined for 42 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and seven steals against the Wildcats’ Harrison twins, and later, other than when Harris battled an ankle sprain in December and until Appling’s wrist injury took hold of his season.
Aaron and Andrew Harrison weren’t then yet what they became in March. But Appling and Harris ran circles around them. Appling especially, with 22 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and four steals.
Remember that Appling.
Contrast him with the player who finished in New York against Napier. No comparison. Imagine that matchup — Appling then and Napier now. They might have been the best two point guards in the country.
Imagine Appling and Harris with Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson as they were playing at season’s end, and with Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice …
There wasn’t a better team playing this weekend in Texas.
It’s a harsh truth. Injuries happen. But MSU had a championship team. Just didn’t win a championship.