MIAMI — Five games in 11 days, mostly short-handed, with a little travel to cap it all off.
Michigan State’s men’s basketball team might play brilliantly tonight at Miami. Maybe Travis Trice is back, Gary Harris is starting and the Spartans look like they did in the first half and final two minutes against Kansas.
My instincts are that won’t be the case, that MSU will look like a weary team, still trying to fit its pieces together and still without Harris.
I picked the Spartans to lose in today’s Lansing State Journal for this reason.
It’s a game without any real ramifications — for the Big Ten or MSU. The league is going to win this year’s Challenge and, win or lose, this game does little to help or hurt MSU down the road in terms of resume.
But this entire stretch, mostly Boise State through Miami, should pay off at some point. It’s healthy to have to learn to play without key players, should the situation arise again, even if only through foul trouble (see Mateen Cleaves in the 2000 national title game, after also missing the nonconference part of the schedule, as an example). And it’s beneficial to be challenged late into games.
If last week wound up as a series of four blowouts, MSU gets nothing from that. It’s just passing time and record-padding.
Instead, for example, Keith Appling knows how much he misses Harris and Trice (even though he actually likes playing almost 40 minutes). The rest of the team does, too. And they also have a greater idea of their roles should one of those guys not be there.
Most importantly, MSU has three additional late-game experiences to draw from.
Tonight should be another, a test of grinding it out through tired legs, in a weird road atmosphere (Miami is only drawing about 3,000 fans a game), against fairly talented but flawed team.