Michigan State's injuries result in Tom Izzo's 'most difficult' season as coach

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The Spartans coach has dealt with everything from illness to injuries, hurting his team's ability to gel during the first half of the season.

It seems that Michigan State can't stay healthy. Adreian Payne has been dealing with a nagging foot injury and the team has been affected by viruses at multiple points during the season. Tom Izzo knows that things could be worse, but even now, he says that this is possibly the most difficult season for him to coach, thanks to all of the players going down around him. He's doing a fine job despite it all. From Brian Hamilton at SI.com:

"I hate to make an excuse, but I put it high, because there’s been so many (injuries)," Izzo said outside the visitors’ locker room. "We come out of the North Carolina game, I have four starters out of the next three practices. Four. Never had that in my career. Everybody has one or two, but I’ve had three, four, and guys not practicing, and guys practicing half-speed, there’s no timing. So it’s been probably the most difficult, because I’ve seen how good we can be. And it makes it harder. There are guys who got it worse than me. But for this year, it’s probably been my hardest."

Early in the season, mononucleosis took sophomore center Matt Costello off the court for most of December. His roommate, Branden Dawson, has been sick much of this past week with the flu. Initially, fears were that he had the same virus of his roommate, though fortunately that was not the case. Dawson is back to practicing now, but how much of that was actually his choice still remains in question.

With all of the injuries going on, Tom Izzo talked to Dawson. "I told him I wasn't interested in him being sick," Izzo said. "I need him playing."

Senior forward Adreian Payne has been the biggest piece missing from the frontcourt, however. The potential first-round draft pick has been dealing with a nagging foot injury. The 6'10 Payne initially played after suffering the injury, serving a crucial role in the overtime victory over Ohio State in a game that saw the Buckeyes fight their way back from a 17-point deficit in the second half.

Payne has been in a walking boot, but was without it for a practice Thursday, that he did not participate in. He is going to have more X-rays done to see how far he is progressing, and then will test out the foot to see if he can play without pain. Izzo has made it clear that he does not want the injury to nag on all season long.

"Sublux" is the term that Keith Appling used to describe what has been happening to his shoulder. It kind of dislocates, but it doesn't really. It is something that he says he has gotten used to, which doesn't sound fun. He is one of only two Spartans to appear in every game this season, Denzel Valentine being the other. Gary Harris is currently on the mend from an ankle injury and has missed three games. The Spartans just cannot catch a single break.

And yet look at where they are, 16-1 and undefeated in conference play. The Associated Press and USA Today have them ranked as the fourth-best team in the country. USA Today actually gave the Spartans a vote as the best team in the country. The only loss MSU has suffered has been to noted giant-killers North Carolina, which has taken down Louisville and Kentucky.

Guiding his charges through the struggles might just make Tom Izzo one of the best coaches in the country, if not the best. Despite being dealt the worst hand of his long tenure at Michigan State, he has found a way to keep the Spartans at the top of the NCAA.

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