There was a time that now feels like ages ago when I was never particularly excited to see Austin Thornton come into a game for MSU.
Sure, he played hard, he dove after loose balls, he seemed like a good teammate. He just never looked particularly comfortable on the court. His 3-point shots always looked like it should go in, but they rarely did (he'd made just 21 percent prior to this season).
But this year? He's a totally different player. He's a defensive stopper and when the ball swings to him for those open threes he often found himself with in his career, now they're going in (41 percent of them to be exact). Joe Rexrode of the Lansing State Journal and Shawn Windsor of the Detroit Free Press both wrote about Thornton this week.
Austin Thornton encountered a pair of Michigan State basketball career firsts in Sunday’s 76-62 win at Purdue.
One, Tom Izzo ran a play for him.
"It was pretty cool — it’s been since high school," the fifth-year senior co-captain, former walk-on and pride of Cedar Springs High said.
Two, Thornton conducted a "heat check" — a popular basketball term for a shooter feeling good and putting something up that maybe isn’t the best shot … but what the heck.
The fifth-year senior and former walk-on has heard much worse in his time at MSU -- earlier this season, many in Spartan Nation couldn't fathom why he was playing instead of the team's younger, more athletic wings. As recently as December, Thornton played tensely, as if afraid to make a mistake. He passed up open shots and got rid of the ball as quickly as he could.
Now here he was, fresh off a 17-point performance at Purdue on Sunday, eager media waiting, his coach playfully lobbing insults across the empty Breslin Center.
Rise. Release. Swish.
"Look at him," Fife said, "he's really feeling it right now. It's a great story. He came from a tough place, a place filled with self-doubt and anxiety."
Thornton is simply another great story in a season full of them. More links after the jump.
Luke Winn includes Michigan State (and Michigan) among his eight national title contenders: "The current Spartans are more efficient than the versions Tom Izzo got to the Final Four in 2005, 2009 and 2010. They're the most dominant rebounding team in the country, grabbing 57.3 percent of available boards on the offensive and defensive glass. They have a senior leader in point forward Draymond Green who does not seem inclined to let them bow out of the NCAA tournament early. The stats, coach and intangibles all meet the championship standard."
Draymond Green breaks down a hypothetical game against his 2009 Final Four team: "I'm not saying we're necessarily better, but we'd pull it out," Green said. "The teams are kind of similar if you actually break it down and look at it. We may be better at one position and not another, but it's pretty similar."
Green isn't ready to make any 2000 comparisons yet, though: "Green was asked about the Mateen Cleaves teams. No one’s ready to go there. He certainly isn’t. "I can’t discuss that with him," he said of Cleaves. "He has a national championship, what am I gonna say? I can maybe discuss that at the end of the year. Can’t discuss it now. All he’d do is put his ring in my face.""
Fred Katz would like Keith Appling to stop with all the 3-pointers: "Keith Appling has to start to refine his shot selection. The sophomore is incredibly efficient inside the arc (51.3% on two pointers) and is strong at getting to the line. He is only shooting 25.7% from three, but he just keeps throwing them up (74 three point attempts)."
Green and Izzo are impressed by what is going on in Ann Arbor: "They've had a hell of a year, too," Izzo said. "They played very well the other night. And I think there's no question that they've done a great job with that team."
Using the QB Score, see how Kirk Cousins ranked among 175 college quarterbacks' performances in 2011.