The question was almost better than Tom Izzo’s answer, because it was a reminder of how our perception of this Michigan State basketball team has changed in the last three months.
Credit goes to my former colleague at Booth Newspapers, Steve Grinczel, now working for MSU, for bringing this up.
“You had a vision of this team on media day,” Grinczel began, addressing Izzo. “How do you reconcile this reality compared to that vision when you worried that your bench was too long?”
Izzo answered with a self-deprecating remark, “Shows you how dumb I am, huh?” But then gave a fairly detailed response about a number of players, but didn’t really answer the question exactly.
In fairness, it’s a hard question to answer without being rude about a couple of players, or without a bit more examination.
Minus Brandan Kearney (who transferred to Arizona State after Christmas), this is the same roster that Izzo thought he had at media day in October. It’s the same roster as when assistant Mike Garland told me this was as deep a crew of athletes as they’d had since the 2000-2001 team.
Now, it doesn’t look deep enough.
What’s happened is that Russell Byrd and Matt Costello haven’t been as ready as advertised. And subtract Kearney and add injuries to Gary Harris and Travis Trice (who are both injured again), and suddenly that once perceived strong 11-man rotation is down to seven or eight players (depending who you view Alex Gauna) who Izzo can rely on.
And that’s when healthy, which the Spartans are not right now.
If you add Kearney to the mix and Costello plays as a freshman as he did over the summer against Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix in the Lansing pro-am, and Byrd was shooting and playing with confidence, this would look like a much deeper team.
But I also think depth is relative. And the perceived lack of depth has something to do with the further emergence of several difference-making athletes, such as Keith Appling, Payne and Branden Dawson, and the addition of Harris.
The depth feels less when the talent of the starters is where it is for MSU. That much is a good thing for the Spartans. But there’s going to be a drop-off.