If Michigan State can find some way to get themselves to stay healthy for three weeks in March, I’m not sure there is anyone in the country that would be more likely to win an NCAA title.
Here’s how I look at it: Gary Harris, Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Branden Dawson are as talented as any top four in the country. They’re also as experienced as any top four in the country. Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine, Matt Costello and Kenny Kaminski provide enough depth and balance and versatility that the Spartans not only have role players to plug in at certain spots in certain situations, they can matchup with teams that give different looks.
All of that comes before the Tom Izzo factor. With all due respect to the likes of Bill Self, Sean Miller, Mike Krzyzewski, Thad Matta and every other superstar coach out there, I’m not sure there is a coach in the country I want running my team in a win-or-go-home game than Izzo.
Combine all of that, and what you get is a team that, if healthy, will look really, really scary come March.
But that ‘if’ is looking bigger and bigger by the game.
Early in the season, it seemed like these were just nagging injuries that Michigan State had to work their way through. Gary Harris’ ankle. Matt Costello’s mono. Adreian Payne’s plantar fasciitis. Travis Trice has missed time. Even Appling has been banged up, as he spent much of last night noticeably favoring his right wrist.
The biggest concern is Payne, who has missed the last four games and may not play against Michigan on Saturday as he deals with a sprained foot.
“Payne is a day-to-day deal,” Izzo told reporters on Tuesday night. “He’s run twice. I don’t know (if he’ll play versus U-M). I don’t know. I don’t think he’s playing, right now. He wants to play. I got the toughest coaching decision in my life to make as far that goes. Doctors have done their job, everybody else has done theirs.”
“Me and him are going to sit down and talk about pain and talk about whether it would be right or it would be wrong.”
Missing Payne hurts the Spartans. He can score in the post, he can rebound the ball, and he can step out and hit a three. He’s an all-american big man, and with all due respect to Costello and Kaminski, it’s a sizeable dropoff when Payne’s out of the game.
Izzo is playing this the right way. Harris had a banged up shoulder as a freshman and Izzo let him play through the pain, diminishing his effectiveness. He’s doing everything he can to ensure that his team will be at full strength come March.
Whether or not they get there — and can stay there — is a different story.