Spartans open B1G tourney against Iowa
The Spartans now know who they will face in their first game of the Big Ten Tournament: Iowa.
The teams met once this season, a resounding 94-61 victory for Michigan State. That win brought the Spartans winning streak to 15, before it was snapped with back-to-back losses at Northwestern and Michigan.
This time, the Spartans are on the other end — coming off back-to-back losses — and they really need a win. Not to pad their NCAA Tournament resume. Not because their season is in jeopardy.
But because they just need a win to re-establish their identity.
The loss of Branden Dawson has the fan base shaken and doubting a bit, and it leaves a lot of question marks. The same question marks are there for the Spartans. How do you replace a player with such athleticism and leaping ability? A great rebounder and scorer is gone for the season, and the Spartans have to make it work without him.
The game against Iowa is the first chance to figure out what that looks like. The answer seems obvious: Replace one Branden with a Brandon and a Brandan.
Brandon Wood likely will step into the starting spot, moving Austin Thornton to the three. Brandan Kearney, because of his 6-foot-5 stature, will be important as a backup and will see increased minutes. His defense will be especially important.
Another player who likely will see more time is Russell Byrd. He will have a chance to make more of a mark.
More than the rest, Travis Trice will need to play a more significant role and show he is healthy enough to impact and influence games like he did earlier in the season.
Trice tweaked his injured ankle again in practice yesterday, but Tom Izzo expects him to play.
The answer really comes to a “Moneyball” concept, you don’t just replace one player with another, you replace the production with multiple players. Dawson averaged 21 minutes, 8.4 points and 4.5 rebounds per game and it will be up to Wood, Kearney, Trice and Byrd to fill those stats however they can.
In that, it will be an adjustment period and a learning process — a process which has to take place quickly.
Fact is, the games the rest of the season won’t be easy — it’s postseason basketball. This first test against Iowa, with a Spartans team with a slightly different look, is the “warm-up” moment for the team. It’s the game to mesh and it’s the game to work out what the rotation will look like for as long as this season will last.
Izzo has been here before, when Kalin Lucas went down in the 2010 NCAA Tournament he had to adjust and the Spartans still made a Final Four run after that.
Time to do it again, because everyone knows Izzo and the Spartans are at their best in March.