The Spartans survived Indiana on Tuesday night. After fumbling and bumbling throughout the first 33 minutes and change, MSU flipped the switch and took control, winning 71-66. The Spartans are 7-0 in conference play, but it feels like a tenuous 7-0. Without Adreian Payne in the lineup, it feels like this is the most fragile 18-1 team in the nation. But, for crying out loud, the team is 18-1! It's amazing what this team has been able to do without one of its best players out of the lineup for four games and with several other players fighting off nagging injuries.
I continue to hear "MSU doesn't have a deep team," and I have to respond with, "That may have been true early in the year, but I don't think it is anymore." Payne's injury, as well as the physical setbacks of Appling, Trice, and Costello--am I forgetting anyone--has forced Izzo to play give significant minutes to Kaminski, Schilling, Gauna, Ellis, and even Byrd. These guys have responded well and carried MSU through this four-game stretch without Adreian Payne. While it may be a stretch to call the MSU basketball team "deep," it's safe to say they are considerable "deeper" than they were at the beginning of the season.
Now to that school down the road. Yesterday night, Michigan defeated #10 Iowa 75-67 and remain perfect in the Big Ten at 6-0.
I didn't believe in Michigan for most of this season, but after their last two impressive wins over ranked opponents, it's safe to say this team is for real and provides a dangerous challenge on Saturday. They've learned to play without McGary and young players like Caris LeVert have made big contributions. Then there's Nik Stauskas, who has improved his game tremendously from last year. Stauskas has become one of the most dangerous players in the Big Ten. I don't know that I or anyone else saw that coming.
From what I've heard, It sounds like MSU will probably have Adreian Payne back on Saturday, and I think this is critical. I suppose the Spartans could still beat Michigan without Payne, but it gets dicey. With Stauskas a dangerous shooter, I'm concerned MSU would spend so much time defending the perimeter while leaving guys like Robinson, Morgan, and Horford open in the paint. Having Adreian Payne in there, even if it's only for 20 minutes or so, should allow the Spartans to keep a body-and-a-half on Stauskas while keeping Michigan's big men in check. (And I can't believe I'm pretending to be a basketball expert here. Scary! Feel free to call me out on any drivel I'm writing here).
In any case, it should be quite a tussle on Saturday night. A game that looked like a slam dunk for the Spartans earlier in the season doesn't look quite that easy anymore.