Keith Appling's wrist injury continues to linger, and it has now escalated into a worrisome, fearful problem for the Michigan State Spartans.
What makes it so concerning isn't any severe structural damage. Rather, it is the general obscurity of his debilitating wrist, simply because there is no timetable for this injury.
Last week, head coach Tom Izzo was encouraged enough to potentially give Appling some limited minutes on the floor, which he did.
But that just complicated the issue.
Appling's only jumper of the Nebraska game fell considerably short, and the senior point guard was a shell of his former self. He played 19 minutes but was a relative non-factor for the Spartans.
After the game, Izzo informed the media of his thoughts on Appling's potential timetable. It wasn't positive.
According to Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press, Izzo is considering "shutting him down" for the rest of the regular season, which would sideline him for pivotal games at Michigan, Ohio State and home against Iowa.
What was bad just got worse. Since Appling started sitting four games ago, the Spartans have lost two contests, both to (then) unranked teams. And in those losses, Sparty shot only 40 percent and 34 percent.
Without its signal-caller, Michigan State has struggled to generate open looks offensively.
If any one player has been directly affected most, it's Gary Harris. Three games ago, he went 3-of-20 from the floor against Wisconsin, which was a career low. Over his last four games, he is shooting just below 30 percent.
Currently, Harris just doesn't appear to be the same player that he was earlier in the season.
But not all of that should be attributed to just him. Without Appling, Harris' spot-up three-point shot is nearly gone completely, as opposing teams have made concerted efforts to eliminate his easy scoring opportunities. The sophomore shooting guard is just 3-of-18 from three-point land in the past three contests.
Clearly, Appling's absence has had a crippling effect on State. It has removed the team's primary ball handler, a versatile scorer, pesky defender and its floor general from the rotation.
For the team's welfare, his injury is certainly worrisome. For Appling, it is too.
One of Izzo's sentiments in a recent press conference may be revealing about Appling's ongoing physical state, via Rexrode.
We’ve got to get him back, but we’ve got to keep him healthy,” Izzo said. “So I don’t know what to tell you on it. … (It’s a) sprained wrist and it’s been going on since (Dec.4), chances are it ain’t gonna be 100% and one fall on it, if I keep him out a month and he falls on it in the first game of the NCAA tournament, it could be right back to square one.
Izzo's comment suggests that this issue will continue to linger, and there is no specified return date moving forward.
As we've witnessed all season, Sparty is talented, deep and well-coached enough to survive an injury to a vital player. They managed to win and remain atop of the conference standings even despite injuries to big men Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne.
But Appling's impact is more omnipresent. While he may not be the Spartans' best player, he could very well be their most important one. That also leaves Travis Trice as the lone available true point guard, which could create issues if he's ever in foul trouble.
Moving forward, State will have to remain in survival mode without Appling available. It doesn't appear that he will return soon, and even when he does, his recovering wrist may still hinder his capabilities.
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