The Michigan State Spartans have recently undergone a whirlwind of surprising returns from injury, and their recent performance against Purdue showed the country how dangerous they are at (nearly) full force. In that performance, not one Michigan State player struggled extensively, so for the time being, the general stock of the team is on the upswing.
It's tough to find areas to nit-pick when a team is setting school records.
With that being said, Sparty has alternated wins and losses in their last eight contests. Some of that can certainly be attributed to their constant overload of injuries, but three of those losses came to (then) unranked teams.
Nonetheless, State remains atop the conference pedestal. The other unit trying to shove them off is their in-state adversary and upcoming opponent, the Michigan Wolverines.
This Sunday, the two foes will square off with serious conference implications on the line. Sparty will need a performance similar to their recent one against Purdue to knock off Michigan in the raucous Crisler Center.
For now, let's reflect on each Spartan starter's recent performance trend and which direction his stock is moving toward.
Trice is the short-term starter in the wake of Keith Appling's injury, but he hasn't played like a replacement.
Overall, Trice's junior season has been sporadic in terms of scoring. For the majority of the season, he would show glimpses, registering double-digit point totals, but would merely follow it with a disappointing, inefficient shooting night. He's shooting 44.3 percent from three-point land, compared to 41.2 percent from the field.
Recently, he has established himself as a legitimate threat. Trice is averaging over 10 points per game in his last four contests on 46.9 percent shooting.
However, his worth has gone far beyond just scoring. Trice has turned the ball over a mere two times in Sparty's last five games. He has run the offense with crispness, excellent pace and unmitigated confidence, which is exactly what the team needs as Appling recuperates.
Saying Trice has filled in admirably is an understatement, and he is just another vital piece that Michigan State will need as it moves towards March.
Harris' titanic shooting struggles may finally be a thing of the past. The talented sophomore broke out against Purdue for 25 points on 6-of-9 shooting from three-point range.
Thursday marked the first time Harris has shot above 50 percent from the floor in nearly a month. Prior to the Purdue game, he struggled immensely and appeared to uncharacteristically force the issue offensively.
But once Appling returned, the old Harris did as well.
The Big Ten's third-leading scorer found more spot-up open looks with his backcourt counterpart returned, and Harris capped off his electric night with a monstrous two-handed alley-oop.
Still, he is relying on his three-point shot heavily. That dunk was the only two-point field goal he made all game, but his 13 free-throw attempts in the last two contests are encouraging.
Where Harris doesn't receive the warranted credit, however, is his opportunistic defense. All season long, struggling jump shot or not, he has been one of Sparty's best and stingiest defenders. He is third in the Big Ten with steals but is also very disciplined.
Perhaps his recent outburst is a precursor for similar offensive success. Harris can surely utilize his athleticism more, but for the time being, it's encouraging to see him get going offensively.
Stock: Slowly Rising
Valentine is another "replacement," although he has transitioned to being a starter swimmingly. He has simply continued what he does best: doing everything well.
Valentine plays team defense, passes extremely well, hits open shots and rebounds at a torrid pace for a guard. Over the last seven games, he has averaged over seven rebounds per game. The sophomore has been the team's best, most consistent rebounder for the last several contests.
Offensively, he has dished out five assists per game in the last five contests. His shooting touch has improved, though it's still far from consistent as each game passes.
Valentine's recent scoring outputs read: 4, 16, 4 and 16. Before that, he produced three consecutive games of 11 points or more and compensated for Gary Harris' scoring struggles.
Overall, Valentine's consistency on both ends of the floor and in every facet of the game has helped the Spartans cope with a plethora of injuries to starters. Right now, Valentine certainly resembles one.
Payne transitioned from an injured, non-factor to an unstoppable force in the blink of an eye. Since his return from a sprained foot, he is averaging 18 points and 6.8 rebounds per game and dominating in every possible way on the offensive end.
His speedy resurgence has even surprised his coach.
Payne has returned in even better form than his previous self. He has thrown down dunks, finished around the rim, gotten to the free-throw line and knocked down threes at a prolific percentage. Payne is 8/18 from three-point land since he returned five games ago and is sinking 75 percent of his free throws.
More impressive than just the raw numbers, however, is his overall shiftiness and movement on the floor. The foot doesn't appear to be hindering the senior power forward whatsoever.
He has undoubtedly been the team's best player recently and is showing no signs of slowing down.
Stock: Rising Rapidly
Costello has continued his season-long consistent play. He rebounds, protects the rim and finishes around the hoop with great efficiency.
Just how accurate is he around the hoop? Costello has missed only four of his 21 attempts in the team's last seven contests. While he isn't asked to knock down perimeter jumpers or highly difficult shots, that is an astoundingly accurate string of games.
Defensively, Costello has continued to serve as a solid shot-blocker. Costello is ninth in the Big Ten with 1.43 blocks per game and is doing so in only 17.7 minutes per game.
If there is any area to nitpick in Costello's recent string of performances, it is his lack of rebounding. He has pulled down only nine rebounds in State's last four contests.
Collectively, Costello has strung together a nice sophomore season. He has mastered the confined role given to him and serves as another rock in the Spartan's rotation.