The MSU basketball team has somehow remained undefeated in arguably the best conference in college basketball without its senior leader and most talented asset.
Senior forward Adreian Payne, who has sat out MSU’s last three games, has been listed as doubtful for Tuesday night’s clash with Big Ten foe Indiana.
With an always-important matchup with interstate rival Michigan looming on Saturday, Spartans head coach Tom Izzo is not going to take any chances with Payne’s health.
The Spartans have been immune to major injury thus far. Payne’s absence is precautionary more than it is necessary. In other words, if we were in March, Payne would be “good to go.”
What is especially impressive is the Spartans ability to make due and avoid defeat while Payne rides the pine.
The backcourt has been picking up the slack. Sophomore guard Gary Harris and senior point guard Keith Appling have guided the Spartans through turbulent times and kept MSU out of the Big Ten loss column for now.
Appling scored 24 points in the Spartans’ 87-75 win over Minnesota while Harris scored 14 important points and played superb defense in MSU’s win over Northwestern.
When junior guard Travis Trice sat out with illness or Harris dealt with a nagging wrist problem, not many people panicked.
But the Spartan faithful now how important Payne is to the long-term goal. Taking a loss, even if at home against an inferior team like Indiana, in January is better than not having Payne at 100 percent in late February.
This is one of the intangible aspects of sports. You cannot predict who is going to stay healthy and who is going to be forced to sit and watch.
But Izzo has been down that helpless road before, and he is going to do everything he can to avoid it.
“We’re preparing like he’s not playing (against the Hoosiers),” Izzo said at his weekly press conference. “When we get him, that will be a bonus.”
A bonus that might make MSU the best team in college basketball come tournament time.