Michigan State's season has been burdened by injuries, and this past week was no exception. It's difficult for a team with weekly lineup fluctuations to develop into a national championship-caliber unit. But overall, the available players and starters have progressed considerably, although their recent record might not reflect it.
Now, with Adreian Payne finally back and looking dominant once again but Keith Appling sidelined for up to two weeks, the team will have to dig deep with its existing players.
But that isn't anything new.
At this point, the team's top five players have missed games at some point this season. The roller-coaster ride hasn't ended and shows no signs of stopping.
There is a lot to take away from the Spartans’ increasingly adverse season, including how each player has fared with the unique circumstances the team has faced on a weekly basis.
Here are the progress reports for every Spartans starter, which is the most recent unit that started in the last game against Wisconsin.
Trice probably played his best game of the season on Sunday against the Badgers. Appointed as the starting point guard due to Keith Appling’s absence, he ran the team with purpose and made some of the biggest plays of the game.
With less than two minutes left, he sank a three-pointer that narrowed the Spartans’ deficit to three. Just 90 seconds later, he assisted the momentary game-tying shot to Adreian Payne, which would have capped an impressive late-game comeback to force overtime.
Instead, Wisconsin prevailed on a game-winner from Traevon Jackson. But Trice’s admirable performance shouldn’t be mistaken, as the sweet-shooting point guard contributed 13 points on 56 percent shooting from the floor.
However, that recent showing was just another conflicting output in his otherwise sporadic season. He hasn’t registered back-to-back games of 10 or more points once this year. In his last three games, the junior point guard has scored zero, five and 13 points.
That’s just too inconsistent. Trice is relied on primarily as someone who comes off the bench and provides scoring. At 6.9 points on 40.8 percent shooting, he hasn’t been the reliable commodity that the Spartans were hoping for.
His newfound role as a starter may continue to serve the junior well, and his recent game against Wisconsin could spark Trice’s offensive game.
If the Spartans win the Big Ten title, Harris will likely be named the conference player of the year. Scoring 17.6 points per game, along with 4.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists, he is composing the stellar sophomore campaign that Sparty had hoped for.
Not only is he well-rounded on the offensive side, but he can lock down opponents as well. He’s disciplined but opportunistic, which explains why his 2.1 steals per game rank third in the Big Ten.
However, he has had a season of highs and lows, too.
Recently, he has struggled to find his shooting touch. The sophomore marksman is shooting an abysmal 29.5 percent from the floor in his last four contests, highlighted by a frustrating 3-of-20 night against Wisconsin on Sunday. In analyzing those plummeting numbers, one must consider the heavy workload he has been dealt with.
Teams have game-planned against Harris with Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Branden Dawson all out for multiple games. He has had to work to find open looks, but those have been scarce. He just can’t find the energy to produce a considerable amount of the team’s points while locking down his opponent on the other end.
However, prior to his recent four-game hiccup, the Indiana native was sensational. He averaged nearly 21 points in the preceding seven games.
Clearly, Harris is suffering from the limited firepower that his available teammates have to offer. He is still having a fantastic season, despite his momentary struggles. Michigan State’s leading scorer will find his groove soon enough.
Adreian Payne returned to the dominant, versatile post player whom spectators have grown accustomed to watching. He awed with a jaw-dropping dunk, impressed with a refined outside shot and pleased with the Spartans’ most important basket of the game, a three-pointer to tie the score against Wisconsin with several seconds remaining.
Yes, he is back.
His 24-point performance against the Badgers was just his latest feat in an outstanding senior season. When he’s been on the court, he has been productive, efficient and game-changing.
The senior forward is averaging 16.4 points on 52.8 percent shooting from the floor, 44.4 percent from three-point range and nearly 80 percent from the line. He can face up, back opponents down and find open teammates when he’s swarmed.
There just isn’t much he can’t do. His season has featured scoring games of 26, 29 and 33 points, and his 7.2 rebounds per game rank second on the team.
Hopefully his most recent outburst is only a precursor for great performances down the line. But for the time being, the Spartans are just pleased to have their dominant power forward healthy enough to play again.
Costello’s offensive role is limited to putbacks and hustle plays, but he has certainly filled it. He is shooting a near perfect 11-of-13 from the floor in his last four contests and averaging eight points through that span.
But he is of greater importance to Michigan State on the defensive end of the floor, where the sophomore rim protector ranks eighth in the Big Ten with 1.65 blocks per game.
Costello will never be a featured offensive player, but his defensive prowess and tough mindset are imperative to the team’s success. And he has shown up on the big stage. He poured in 11 points and 12 rebounds in an important road win for Michigan State against Iowa and was solid against Michigan with nine points and eight boards.
The recent spree of injuries has led to increased offensive responsibility, and he has stepped up.
His progression into a competent offensive player will only benefit the Spartans once they are fully healthy again.
The Spartans are fortunate to have Denzel Valentine’s multi-faceted skill set in the wake of multiple injuries to key players. The 6’5” guard is averaging an amazing 6.3 rebounds, and he’s registered five games with 10 boards or more.
His contributions on the rebounding and defensive fronts have been important to a Spartans team that was missing its top two rebounders for multiple games. He has upped his play in the last seven contests, recording five games of double-digit points and three games with nine rebounds or more.
Clearly, Valentine is a unique talent. He has struggled with his shooting stroke, however, making just over 38 percent of his attempts from the field.
But unlike some Spartans, his worth goes far beyond scoring. Valentine ranks second on the team in assists, third in rebounds and third in steals.
His transition from the sixth man to a starter has been smooth, and the Lansing native will continue to help the Spartans in a plethora of phases.