Tom Izzo knew the facts.
Branden Dawson is recovering from major reconstructive knee surgery.
Gary Harris has had both shoulders pop out this season.
Denzel Valentine i battling the freshman wall.
Travis Trice has had a concussion, a broken nose and has seen his weight plummet.
But when combined together, added up in succession and presented to him, the Spartans’ head coach began rubbing his face — a mix of pain and exasperation as the weight and totality of the tidal wave began crashing down.
Not only is the No. 13 MSU men’s basketball team’s (17-4 overall, 6-2 Big Ten) rotation small, it’s also potentially frail, with each of the seven players burdened in one way or another.
“It must be great coaching with all those problems,” Izzo joked.
“You can’t do it with four or five. You can do it with seven, (but) it’s harder. You get it to eight and it makes it a little more (feasible), and I think both our bigs are capable of coming in and playing minutes.”
Yet, as Izzo looks down his roster, seeking the key ingredient to help his team take the next step, he believes the answer could be the player attempting to overcome the biggest obstacle.
Dawson said he’s been watching more film and focusing on simplifying his game — crashing the glass, attacking off the dribble and running hard.
“At first I wasn’t really believing coach when he told me I wasn’t running hard, or I wasn’t going to the glass,” Dawson said. “So I started watching film and started coming along and started believing in coach.”
Izzo made sure Dawson got the message by sending him a text message Monday night.
The sophomore checked his phone and saw an unexpected message from his head coach that brought a smile to his face.
“He just said ‘let’s get it rolling,’” Dawson said. “He wants me to average 20 (points) and 10 (rebounds). I kind of smiled at that text because that’s a lot coming back off the injury that I had, but I’m not going to think about that.”
So even as Dawson improves his scoring and rebounding in conference play, Izzo still sees a greater ceiling for his sophomore — one that could be the key in pushing his team over the top.
“For us to go from good to great (Dawson) has to continue to take steps, cause he’s got way more in his tank,” Izzo said. “I don’t know if we’ll get it there, it’s not his fault, always, for what he missed out on, but he’s coming.”