Yesterday, it was announced that MSU Basketball starting forward Branden Dawson will indeed be out for Sunday’s showdown in Ann Arbor. He’s been injured since January 23rd, when he broke a bone in his hand slamming a table after MSU’s close win against Indiana (even though it was their 11th straight win). It’s been proven how big of a piece Dawson is to this team; in the eight games that he has been out for, MSU has not been able to win consecutive games (they’re 4-4). It was originally announced by Tom Izzo that Dawson would be back in time for the Michigan game on Sunday, but after getting the pins removed from his hand, it was announced that the earliest he could make his return would be next Sunday against Illinois.
Well, through the last eight games, we’ve seen bits and pieces of the repercussions. The only reason I say we haven’t seen the full effect is because throughout the last eight games, Payne and Appling have been hurt in addition to Dawson, and Gary Harris has been going through a rough stretch. When three of a team’s starting five is out and one of the two remaining starters can’t hit a basket to save their lives, it’s hard to pick out certain parts of the game where a team misses one of their absent players. There were definitely certain times, however, when there were loose balls left un-rebounded or wing players left undefended and Spartan fans knew that was a hole due to Dawson’s absence.
Now that MSU has had every player active other than Dawson for two full games now (Nebraska loss, Purdue win), we’ve been able to see more of the Dawson effect. Although Appling still isn’t fully healthy and he and Payne are still rebuilding their on-court chemistry, the team is definitely looking like they’re coming together. Appling is healing up nicely, Payne is playing incredibly well and Harris is out of his shooting slump. There’s just one hole. Branden Dawson. The Dawson absence was most prevalent in MSU’s heartbreaking loss to Nebraska last Sunday. Dawson, being athletic and lanky with a good frame, is able to guard shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards. The best player for Nebraska that Sunday? Guard-forward hybrid Terran Petteway. Petteway was a menace to the Spartans, scoring 23 points and shooting 40% from the three-point line. The reason he scored so many points was because he was being matched up against Harris (who doesn’t have the length to defend him), Valentine (suspect defender), and Payne (doesn’t have the speed to match up against him).
If Dawson was playing, some of those desperation threes that Petteway launched would have probably never even happened. On the offensive side, the only players not named Branden Dawson that can get into the paint and score easily are Adreian Payne and Matt Costello. In the past few games, Costello hasn’t been able to pick up the slack offensively, and therefore Payne has been the only inside offensive threat. When Dawson and Payne are both in the game, it gives Michigan State both an inside and outside dimension on offense. Without Dawson, the team reverts to jacking way too many threes. For example, in the game against Nebraska, MSU shot 24 threes and only made 21% of them, which is unacceptable. While Dawson may not be a huge offensive threat, he provides depth on the inside for MSU, which is crucial to their offensive performance.
In the eight games since Dawson’s been out, Michigan State has scored 60 points or less three different times. In the 18 games where Dawson has played, MSU only scored 60 or less one time— 54 points in a win against Northwestern, who is second in defensive efficiency in the Big Ten, according to KenPom.
Will Dawson’s absence have that big of an effect on Sunday’s matchup? Offensively, it probably won’t. Adreian Payne will be a force everywhere against Michigan big man Jordan Morgan, and it being Keith Appling’s last chance to win in Ann Arbor, I have a feeling his wrist might feel a little bit better. Defensively, though, it could make a big impact. MSU will most likely run out an Appling-Harris-Valentine-Payne-Costello lineup against Michigan’s Derrick Walton-Caris LeVert-Nik Stauskas-Glenn Robinson-Jordan Morgan lineup. I have confidence in the smaller guards to lockdown Walton and LeVert, but Valentine, Payne and Harris will have trouble keeping Stauskas quiet from the perimeter. Dawson has the speed and agility to cover up Stauskas, even though Dawson is basically a different position than him. Without Dawson, Stauskas will be hanging around the perimeter alone a lot.
The MSU vs Michigan game is at 12:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, and will be aired on CBS.