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At what point do Michigan State’s injury woes become a larger concern?


We’ve been saying it for so long, it’s almost because second-nature: No. 13 Michigan State is good, but just wait until they get healthy.

And the party line won’t be any different after the Spartans lost to in-state rival No. 20 Michigan in Crisler Arena on Sunday afternoon.

Tom Izzo’s club jumped out to an early lead and had control of the game for much of the first half, but Nik Stauskas took over in the second half, scoring 21 of his 25 points after the break, leading the Wolverines to a 79-70 win. He and Caris LeVert, who scored 14 of his 23 points in the second half, sparked a game-changing, 17-4 run midway through the half.

The loss means that Sparty was swept by the Wolverines this season. It also dropped them a game behind Big Blue in the Big Ten standings with just four games left to play. The Wolverines don’t play another tournament team. Michigan State still have Iowa at home and a trip to Ohio State left on their schedule.

So long story short, this loss most likely cost the Spartans a Big Ten regular season title.

But the bigger issue is going to be whether or not this team can actually get back to playing their best basketball.

Adreian Payne and Gary Harris are ready to go. Harris has gotten past his ankle issue and Payne’s foot seems to be all better, which is why both have played like lottery picks in recent games. Branden Dawson has gotten the screws removed from his broken hand and Keith Appling has now played in the last three games. They are almost back to having a full roster available.

The problem, however, is whether or not the Spartans can get back to playing the kind of basketball they were playing earlier this year.

I’ll be honest: on paper, if you give me Tom Izzo with a team that includes Appling, Harris, Dawson and Payne, I’m likely picking that team to win the title regardless of who the fifth guy is. But right now, Appling is not himself. You can see it. He landed hard on a lob attempt on Sunday and his wrist was visibly bothering him. In the three games since he came back, he hasn’t played more than 25 minutes, has taken just seven shots and scored only nine points. He’s 0-for-2 from three and 1-for-3 from the line.

In other words, he’s hurting.

But this injury happened in December against North Carolina. That’s two-and-a-half months ago. He missed three games in an effort to get it healed up. It’s still bothering him. At this point, why should we assume that it will get better?

Appling’s injury is only part of the issue.

When so many guys have missed so many games, what happens if they do all end up on the floor together again? Will they be able to mesh? Will they remember what sets to run? Will they be comfortable playing alongside one another? Will everything click?

Who knows.

We’re all waiting for the Spartans to get back to 100%, but at what point do we ask A) if they can get to full strength, or B) if their full-strength is as good as it was in November?

Syracuse receives mixed news on sanctions appeals

Jim Boeheim
Associated Press
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Wednesday the NCAA made its ruling on two¬†appeals of sanctions made by Syracuse University, with the news being mixed for the men’s basketball program.

On the positive side the NCAA ruled that Syracuse will be docked two scholarships per season for the next four years, as opposed to the original ruling of three. As a result Jim Boeheim’s program only has to account for the loss of eight total scholarships, meaning that they’ll have 11 to fill in each of the next four seasons as opposed to ten.

One scholarship may not seem like a big deal, but in a sport where you only get 13 (when not dealing with sanctions) getting that grant-in-aid back really helps from a recruiting standpoint.

As for the negatives, they both concern Boeheim. Not only has there yet to be a ruling on Boeheim’s appeal of his nine-game suspension that goes into effect when ACC play begins in January (that appeal is being heard separately), but the appeal to reinstate the wins that were vacated as part of the sanctions was denied. As a result Boeheim officially has 868 wins instead of 969 (not counting today’s game against Charlotte).

And with Mike Hopkins set to take over as head coach in 2018, the denial means that college basketball will have to wait quite some time before anyone threatens to join Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski in the 1,000 wins club.

While not having the wins officially reinstated does hurt, getting a scholarship back for each of the next four seasons is a bigger deal when it comes to the long-term health of the Syracuse program. Also of great importance will be the ruling regarding Boeheim’s suspension, as a suspended coach is not allowed to have any contact with his players or coaching staff while serving the penalty.

And with the original ruling due to take up half of Syracuse’s league slate, not having Boeheim (or the chance to speak with him) is a big deal when it comes to this current team.

St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe cleared by NCAA

Chris Mullin
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St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe has been cleared by the NCAA to play this season and will be eligible immediately, the school announced on Wednesday.

Yakwe is a 6-foot-8 forward that reclassified and enrolled at St. John’s this fall. He attended the same high school as Kansas forward Cheick Diallo, who was also cleared by the NCAA to play today.

St. John’s played in the Maui Invitational this week, and Yakwe did not take part. His first game with the Johnnies will be on Dec. 2nd against Fordham if the program plans to play his this season.

The question that must be asked, however, is whether or not he will suit up or simply redshirt. The Johnnies are in the midst of a serious rebuild and will be without their other elite recruit this season, Marcus Lovett. Lovett was ruled a partial qualifier. Would it make sense to burn a year of eligibility on what make amount to a wasted season, or will head coach Chris Mullin opt to save that year for down the road?