Odds are Michigan State forward Nick Ward won't be returning from injury Saturday.
At least that's what Spartans coach Tom Izzo thinks.
Ward has been sidelined since Feb. 17 with a hairline fracture in his left hand when he suffered the injury late in the first half against Ohio State. The 6 foot, 8 inch Ward has missed four games since and is doubtful for Saturday, when the ninth-ranked Spartans host No. 7 Michigan (8 p.m./ESPN), though Ward could resume practicing with the team by Friday if he remains pain-free.
"It’s a million-to-one chance he could play," Izzo said of Ward after the team's practice Wednesday. "We have no contact (Wednesday) and he will not be allowed to have contact (Thursday), but we’ll get a better feel on how his hand feels. Then it just goes according to the pain and getting him back."
The Spartans (24-6, 15-4 in Big Ten), however, could have guard/forward Kyle Ahrens back for Saturday after the redshirt junior was held out of Tuesday's 91-76 win over Nebraska with chronic back pain. Ahrens last played March 2 against Indiana, but did not play the final 11:42 after re-injuring his back — which has bothered Ahrens since early December — diving for a loose ball.
Izzo said unless there's a last-minute setback, he's "99 percent sure" Ahrens will be dressed to play Saturday.
“Kyle, I hope, has a little better chance but he’s still struggling a little bit," Izzo said. "He’s played hurt before, I think he’ll be there ready to play."
Ahrens has played in all but four games this season, but is more worried about keeping himself healthy for next week's Big Ten Tournament and the rest of March Madness. Though not a leading scorer, Ahrens has been a reliable wing off the bench, averaging 5.2 points and 2.6 rebounds in 19.2 minutes.
“At this point, it’s just more being smart, you know? If they need me I’m going to be there," Ahrens said. "(But) we still have the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Tournament to look at. So we got to look at the long picture with this."
Freshman Gabe Brown absorbed the bulk of Ahrens' minutes on Tuesday, shooting 1-of-7 from the floor with two points and four boards in 22 minutes.
Whether Ahrens is healthy or not, senior and co-captain Matt McQuaid said it'll be important for Brown to step up if needed. The Spartans and U-M (26-4, 15-4) are tied with Purdue atop the conference with the winner of Saturday's game guaranteed at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title, among other seeding priorities for the postseason.
“Kyle does a lot of little things that people don’t see, a lot of intangibles, talk, pretty shooter," McQuaid said. "He’s great, but we just have got to keep having this ‘next man up’ mentality and different people just stepping up and helping each other out."
Winston named semifinalist for Naismith Trophy
Junior point guard Cassius Winston was named one of 10 national semifinalists for the 2019 Citizen Naismith Trophy, presented to the national player of the year.
Winston is averaging 18.8 points, 7.6 assists and 3.0 rebounds while shooting 47.3 percent from the floor and 42.2 percent from 3-point range. He ranks fourth in the Big Ten in scoring and is No. 3 in the country in assists per game.
Winston is the only player in the country averaging at least 18.0 points, 7.0 assists and shooting at least 40.0 percent on 3s. He's been named Big Ten Player of the Week a school record five times this season.
Four finalists will be chosen by a voting panel later this year.
Dwayne Stephens named to Assistant Coaches Hall of Fame
Spartans associate head coach Dwayne Stephens will be one of 12 coaches inducted into the inaugural class of A Step Up Assistant Coaches Hall of Fame, MSU announced in a release.
Stephens, in his 16th season as an MSU assistant and seventh as associate head coach, has worked with six frontcourt players selected in the last seven NBA Drafts, including Draymond Green, Deyonta Davis, Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr.
The 2019 Assistant Coaches Hall of Fame will recognize men's and women's coaches from NCAA Divisions I, II and III. Stephens, and the rest of the class, will be inducted on May 7 during the Symposium's Legends Breakfast in Atlanta.
Other coaches from the 2019 class include Donny Daniels (Gonzaga), Chris Dailey (UConn), Mickie DeMoss (retired), Stan Jones (Florida State), Carol Owens (Notre Dame), Steve Robinson (North Carolina) and Amy Tucker (Stanford).
Breslin Center "White Out"
Fans attending Saturday's game at the Breslin are encourage to wear white to "White Out" the 14,797-seat arena in MSU's final home game of the season, the university's athletic department said in a release. Fans will also be asked to remain in their seats postgame as McQuaid, forward Kenny Goins and the program's managers and office assistants will be recognized in a Senior Day ceremony.