A season that started with great expectations and sights set on another Final 4 and potential national championship has turned into a season of what ifs.
What if the Michigan State Spartans were fully healthy? What if Keith Appling, Gary Harris, Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne took the court together for every single game? What if Appling–the team’s most important player–wouldn’t have hurt his wrist? What if Payne–who when healthy, has looked dominant–wouldn’t have missed a month with plantar fasciitis? And what if Dawson–who only God knows why–wouldn’t have slammed his hand down on a table out of frustration while watching game film?
Where would this team be then? Presumably, they’d be on their way to a definite conference championship and likely No. 1 seed in next month’s NCAA tournament
As it stands today, the Spartans are 21-5 and 10-3 in the Big Ten Conference. They’re tied atop the league with in-state rival Michigan. The injuries they’ve faced have been brutal, and that’s probably an understatement. Without Payne, the team has no legitimate post presence. Dawson’s extended absence has led to a lack of offensive boards and decline in team rebounds as a whole. And what Appling brings to MSU is immeasurable.
Tom Izzo has often referred to him as his toughest player, and of even more importance, when Michigan State has needed a big shot in the past, Appling has usually been the guy to deliver. News came out just a while ago indicating that Appling could potentially be shut down for the remainder of the season. And to anyone who watched the senior point guard struggle to even get his shot to the basket yesterday, that should come as no surprise. The wrist is still clearly ailing him, perhaps to a greater extent than most thought.
Yesterday’s loss to Nebraska was certainly alarming. Not so much the loss, but the way in which the Cornhuskers came into East Lansing and bullied the Spartans. This wasn’t the first time that has happened. Back in early December when the Spartans were the No. 1 ranked team in the country, North Carolina traveled to the Jack Breslin Student Events Center and did the exact same thing. They outrebounded, outhustled and overall outworked Izzo’s bunch.
Injuries included, there’s no excuse for that.
As a Michigan State student and loyal Spartan fan, this team’s effort at times has been extremely disconcerting to see; especially with a coach like Izzo in charge. Izzo’s Spartans have become known for their great heart, tremendous toughness and rebounding prowess. But as of now, this team does not meet the Spartan criteria that their veteran coach has entrenched. And with so much talent–forget the injuries–that’s a cause for concern, and quite frankly, it’s maddeningly frustrating.
The injuries can’t be controlled, the effort can be. This is Michigan State. This is Tom Izzo. This is a program whose foundation has been built on outworking the opposition and playing to its strengths. I’m tired of hearing about all the injuries. I’m tired of wondering when player X will be back or how long player Y will be out. I want to know who is playing and whoever is, I want to know that they’re going to give a consistent effort for all 40 minutes. And I think I speak for all of Spartan nation in saying that.
What if we never see this team at full strength again? Will the 2013-14 Michigan State Spartans become the greatest what if team of all time? Only time will tell, but for now, step up, Sparty. This is the hand you’ve been dealt. Accept it, and deal with it.
Matthew Sturgeon is a College Basketball Writer for RantSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter @OfficialSturg27