Michigan Stateís Keith Appling steals the ball from Michiganís Tim Hardaway Jr. on March 3. Appling says seeing his shot fall lately has boosted his confidence. (Daniel Mears/Detroit News)
East Lansing — Keith Appling insists he has no trouble blocking out all the noise.
For the Michigan State point guard, the constant connection of social media applications like Twitter are what he calls "a waste of time."
And for a player who might be as important to his team as any other in the NCAA Tournament, it's vital he block out any negativity.
Because for Appling, there has been plenty of negativity.
When Michigan State lost three straight, it was Appling's poor play that was the focus.
When the Tournament field was announced, the first person mentioned when analysts turned to Michigan State was Appling.
"Keith Appling is going to have to deal with the position he plays," coach Tom Izzo said. "Everybody is going to be in the same boat on that. Everybody's got to have answers and questions for the quarterback, including the coaches. That's just part of what you sign up for."
Appling understands the pressure and does what he can to avoid it.
"At the end of the day, when you step out on the basketball court, nobody that's tweeting those things can do anything for you," he said. "So why even bother?"
Appling was outstanding early, leading late surges in victories over Kansas, Boise State and Oakland, as well as the first meeting against Ohio State. But as the season progressed, Appling's play began to suffer.
He fouled out in the first meeting with Indiana, a five-point loss, then missed free throws late in the second meeting, a four-point loss.
The finger was pointed routinely at Appling as the reason for the losses.
Throughout the slump, Appling was cold from the perimeter, and the best part of his game, his defense, begun to suffer, as well.
So he did the only thing he knows: He worked harder.
He was 12-for-21 the final two games of the season, and in the Big Ten tournament, he was 4-for-7 from 3-point range against Ohio State. That came one day after a highlight-reel dunk against Iowa.
"Yeah, I think it helped him," Izzo said. "He looked comfortable shooting the ball. He worked on it extremely hard the last couple weeks. So I think that's another thing I brought up. Who has worked the hardest on this? Who has worked the hardest on that? Have you worked on your free throws? Have you worked on whatever?"
Appling agreed seeing his shot fall has provided a boost to his confidence, and he believes that can make a difference heading into the Tournament, which begins Thursday against No. 14 Valparaiso.
Now that his shot is falling a little more consistently, Appling believes other teams will have to worry more about stopping him than trying to exploit his weaknesses. Last season, Saint Louis sagged off Appling and allowed him to shoot in the third round.
Did the Billikens make a mistake?
"You saw at the end what happened to Saint Louis," said Appling, who scored 19 points and shot 7-for-14 in Michigan State's victory, which sent it to the Sweet 16.
A year later, Appling believes he is a better player, and he doesn't need anyone on Twitter to tell him.
"You'd be surprised the difference a year can make," he said. "I've worked hard and I feel like that one year has helped me."
Michigan State vs. Valparaiso
Tip-off: 12:15 p.m. Thursday, The Palace, Auburn Hills
Records: Michigan State 25-8, Valparaiso 26-7
Outlook: Valparaiso set a program record for victories in a season with 26 when it defeated Wright State in the Horizon League championship game last week. Senior F Ryan Broekhoff leads the Crusaders, averaging 15.9 points and 7.3 rebounds, while senior F Kevin Van Wijk averages 12.7 points and 5.5 rebounds.