It’s Saturday, the day before Super Bowl Sunday and I’m walking into the world-famous Madison Square Garden.
I walk into my temporary office, kick my Nike sneakers up on the desk and take a look down at a blank sheet of paper. I have a tough decision to make, because right now I’m Tom Izzo, and my team is about to take the floor against Georgetown.
It’s an odd game to play in the middle of Big Ten season, but hey, if it gets my program attention before the Super Bowl, consider me all-in. But should I be going all-in with my lineup today against a non-conference opponent? Hmm…
Alright, I’m back my daydream, and I’m not Tom Izzo anymore. I’m back to being another writer who has an idea of what MSU should do this Saturday.
But bear with me here, because I actually think I have a good idea (for once) of who the Spartans should run with.
No. 6 MSU will be playing a game on a big stage in MSG, but beside that, the game is borderline meaningless.
It doesn’t count in the Big Ten race, it isn’t a matchup between two heavyweights with the 11-9 Hoyas being the opponent and it certainly isn’t March yet.
When Izzo fills out his roster card for Saturday he shouldn’t be going all-in, but instead giving his starters who have been working their tail off a rest.
And yes, I’m looking specifically at Keith Appling. The senior guard almost has as many aching bones as a retirement home, and he might be due for a one-day retirement himself.
The wrist won’t get any healthier, his hip won’t feel any better and his back certainly won’t be taking a break if he plays on Saturday.
But do you know what could get stronger? MSU’s other guards that haven’t grabbed too many minutes as the point guard this season.
Junior guard Travis Trice, who might be the frontrunner to be MSU’s floor general next season, could grab some valuable playing time.
Denzel Valentine, who might as well be “Mr. Everything,” could use some polishing as a point guard.
I wouldn’t stop at Appling either — I also would give Gary Harris and Matt Costello limited minutes too. If Izzo knocked on my door and asked me to rattle off my starting five, I would answer with Travis Trice, Gary Harris, Denzel Valentine, Alex Gauna and Matt Costello.
Harris and Costello wouldn’t see the floor too much, and I would go heavy on the other bench players so they can fine-tune their skills. Gavin Schilling could work on going up stronger with the ball. Kenny Kaminski can not only work on his 3-point shot that has faded away recently, but also his improved defense.
Russell Byrd also could keep launching 3-pointers with people in his face, because after his heroics against Iowa, why not?
And heck, why not give the walk-ons a minute or two? What’s the worst that could happen? Dropping a seed in the NCAA Tournament? Maybe?
Every bench player has something they can work on, but here is the true beauty of this plan — MSU still could beat Georgetown with this lineup.
The Hoyas have lost their last five games, and only one has been within five points. If No. 6 MSU can go out and top them with their bench they will not only strengthen their role players, but also make their team scary-good when all starters are back in action.
Matt Sheehan is a State News basketball reporter. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.