Pick your MVP
Was it Draymond Green? Is that too obvious? After one of his worst all-around halves of the year, Green had the second half on a puppet string. To me, after watching that half, he's the favorite (POY) and MSU is the favorite (banner).
That was Green's fifth game this season with the combination of 20 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists (or more). Entering the weekend, one player in college basketball (C.J. McCollum of Lehigh, you may remember him from such Breslin evenings as MSU 90, Lehigh 81 on Dec. 22) had more than one of those. McCollum had two.
Also, Green is in position to be the first player from a power conference to average 15, 10 and 3 (or more) since Tim Duncan did it for Wake Forest in the 1996-97 season. The national POY talk is going to pick up for Green after this performance.
Or maybe it's Branden Dawson? He took a lot today from Purdue fans ("How much did you take?" was one of their taunts, in fact, as he recalled after the game). That windmill? How many replays is that going to get in the next few days? It'll overshadow his all-around strong game -- 15, 11 and good defense for most of the day. He's going to be scary but he's getting there already. As Tom Izzo said, he's figuring out how to move without the ball and get points without possessing a jump shot, as Jason Richardson did as a freshman.
Austin Thornton? Let's not forget his career-high 17 points. Izzo said MSU actually ran some plays for him early. Who called that in November? I certainly didn't. I seem to recall some fans not being too happy with Thornton getting any minutes. Most of today's 27 were strong. In a season of unseen developments and best-case-scenario answers to so many questions about this team, Thornton is high on both lists.
Or maybe you prefer Derrick Nix? When MSU needed a lift, needed to stay in the game in the first half, he went on a run and ended up with 12 points in 25 minutes. He also played a big role in MSU's defensive adjustments to Purdue's screening in the second half. MSU was much better when Nix was on the floor today -- especially with Adreian Payne suffering his second straight post-Ohio State letdown.
Those are the four obvious choices, but I think Keith Appling deserves a shot at it, too. He played a team-high 35 minutes and had seven points, five assists and just one turnover against heavy pressure from Lewis Jackson. He stopped letting Jackson into the lane in the second half and he hit a pair of big pull-ups late as well. Quietly, a very important performance from Appling.
This team seems to have a lot of possibilities every night, one of the reasons it stands alone in first place with four to play, closing in on a title, sniffing at a No. 1 seed (if Joe Lunardi's Twitter account is to be believed, MSU will be on the top line of his mock bracket Monday) and looking destined to start the NCAA Tournament in Columbus. Just as MVP of this game is a tough question, so is this: Who's going to beat Michigan State?