ATLANTA — So, a team that looked like it couldn’t play without Travis Trice last Friday, looked much more settled without him Tuesday.
And though finally healthy, Matt Costello didn’t see the court again against Kansas, and the freshman big man’s primary competition for playing time, Alex Gauna, played as well as he ever has.
After MSU’s 67-64 win over Kansas Tuesday night, coach Tom Izzo blamed himself and circumstance for not having a consistent rotation. The substitution pattern seemed to work fine.
The question is, when at full strength, what will MSU’s rotation become? Who’s in? Who’s out? Who’s role is diminished? Who emerges?
It’s safe to say Keith Appling, Gary Harris, Denzel Valentine, Derrick Nix, Branden Dawson, Adreian Payne and Trice are going to play major minutes this season.
Harris, if he stays healthy, is probably going to lead this team in scoring. He has superb body control around the rim and, Tuesday, four quick points when MSU trailed by five with 5 minutes left showed he’s a closer, recognizing the moment.
He was overshadowed by Appling’s sensational final two minutes (that scoop lefty layup by Appling looks better every time I see it).
Valentine was nearly as important. He sees the floor better than anyone on this team, even Trice, and MSU doesn’t beat Kansas without him.
Trice will continue to be the backup point guard, I believe, with Valentine getting the bulk of his minutes on the wing.
That top seven, as I figure it, on average is going to take at least 170 of the 200 minutes available per game. That’s 30 minutes, at most, to split between Gauna, Brandan Kearney, Russell Byrd and Costello.
Would a redshirt for Costello make sense? Probably not. By all accounts, he’s ready to contribute. But it doesn’t make sense to use him if he doesn’t have a consistently meaningful role.
Byrd is going to have to start hitting outside shots to keep his minutes. That’s his value. That’s what potentially separates him from others.
Gauna deserves a role if he keeps playing as he did Tuesday.
This team is going to get interesting.
It already is.