Adreian Payne has been sidelined for the last six games with a sprained foot, and his front court complement, Branden Dawson, sat out the last couple of contests after injuring his hand in a film session. Collectively, the duo has averaged 26.4 points and 16.4 points per game for Michigan State this season. But they shouldn't rush back.
The Spartans have discovered a new recipe for winning without the big boys inside; one that promotes ball-sharing and defensive cohesiveness as the pillars.
Just how effective has that formula been? Without Payne and Dawson, Michigan State has only lost one game.
Now, obviously the Spartans are a more fortifying force with those guys in the lineup, but Michigan State has convincingly proven that they are more than capable of surviving without them.
Take the Iowa game, for example. Michigan State was entering a raucous environment that had fueled the Hawkeyes to 20 straight victories. Iowa boasted an offense that scored 85-plus points routinely, not to mention their team was thirsty for a win, which would catapult them ahead of the Spartans in the Big Ten race.
The game was aired on ESPN, and the entire situation primed Iowa for its official breakout on a national stage.
But Michigan State had other ideas. From the opening tap, the Spartans suppressed Iowa offensively by staying disciplined and forcing the Hawkeyes to make contested shots.
Offensively, Sparty struggled. Gary Harris cooled down from his frenetic scoring pace from the three previous games, and they had to rely on role players like Denzel Valentine, Matt Costello and even Russell Byrd to step up.
And they certainly did, on both sides of the ball. Michigan State held Iowa to a a paltry one field goal in the final 15 minutes of regulation to seal the win, while hitting clutch shots in the meantime. The game exemplified Tom Izzo's brilliance and the Spartans' never-say-die attitude.
Clearly, without Payne and Dawson, they lose a considerable amount of overall production. But Michigan State can win without them, and Izzo should allow those guys to recuperate fully before returning.
Here are the reasons why the front court duo shouldn't rush back.