Tough. Physical. Durable. These are words that usually describe Michigan State's basketball teams.
The list for this year might unfortunately look more like...Frail. Fragile. Unsteady.
These labels are not meant to be critical of the Spartans' skills or state of mind. They are merely a description of how banged up Tom Izzo's squad is a month into the 2013-14 season.
A quick review of this roster is little more than a record of the walking wounded.
MLive.com's Diamond Leung reported that MSU's leading scorer and shooting guard Gary Harris tweaked his right ankle against North Carolina and "was wearing a walking boot during a trip to watch the football team play in Indianapolis."
CBSSports.com's Jeff Borzello added that Harris said:
I really got to sit down and give it some rest and really let it heal properly the right way. It's never been the same since I did what I did in the summer.
The shooting guard already sat out the Mount St. Mary's game after Thanksgiving, but it looks like more time is required for his ankle to get completely right.
Harris' running mate, Keith Appling has been nursing a bad hip since the North Carolina game. Though Appling came back to see second-half action against the Tar Heels, Izzo did not know until later the seriousness of the fall.
Lansing State Journal's Chris Solari tweeted:
Izzo never saw Keith Appling's fall. "When I watched it on tape, I almost text him 5 letters - sorry."— Chris Solari (@chrissolari) December 9, 2013
On Monday (Dec. 9), Michiganstate.247sports.com's Dan Kilbride related:
Keith Appling practiced a little bit yesterday for the first time since UNC game with that hip pointer.— Dan Kilbridge (@MSUDanK) December 9, 2013
With Harris out and Appling ailing, the Spartans will have to rely on backup guards Travis Trice and Alvin Ellis III to shoulder a lot of the backcourt load. While Trice should do fine, Ellis is basically untested. The 6'4" freshman has played a total of only 42 minutes in MSU's first eight games and tallied 13 points and five assists.
The Spartans backcourt is not the only place recently impacted by injuries.
Detroit Free Press' Joe Rexrode said that Adreian Payne has been dealing with a bad foot for most of the season. The power forward "has plantar fasciitis, which has robbed him of practice and hurt his conditioning. He was cramping during the second half of the UNC loss."
Even a player as forceful and athletic as Payne can only do so much on bad wheels.
Good thing Michigan State doesn't play until Dec. 14 at Oakland with Adreian Payne suffering from plantar fasciitis. Needs rest.— Andy Katz (@ESPNAndyKatz) December 6, 2013
Rexrode verified on Monday that Costello's mononucleosis tests came back positive.
Even though Costello is averaging only 3.4 point and 3.5 rebounds per game, the Spartans will miss his physical presence on the defensive end.
The good news is that none of these injuries or ailments carry with them a "season ending" tag.
The Spartans' light schedule over the next three weeks will give Izzo the chance to give much-needed rest to his hurting players. Michigan State has home games against Oakland (Dec. 14), North Florida (Dec. 17) and New Orleans (Dec. 28) and one road contest against Texas (Dec. 21).
But Harris, Payne and Costello (and their 37 points and nearly 16 rebounds) will all be out of Michigan State's lineup for at least their game against Oakland this Saturday.
This rash of injuries delays the process of the Spartans coming together before their Big Ten schedule begins on New Year's Eve at Penn State.
Rather than hitting conference play with momentum and energy, Izzo and his squad will have to regroup and reconnect on the fly as they play four of their first six league games on the road.