ANN ARBOR—Already without senior Adreian Payne the last four games, Michigan State took another blow to the brow Thursday when it was announced junior forward Branden Dawson is now out four to five weeks after breaking a bone in his right hand.
With Spartan coach Tom Izzo stating Thursday the chances are “slim to none” Payne returns Saturday night in East Lansing against No. 21 Michigan, the Dawson news is troubling to say the least.
Factor in the fact that over the last four games without Payne, Dawson collected nine rebounds per contest in helping lead Michigan State to a 7-0 start to Big Ten play, the Spartans will be shorthanded on both ends of the floor.
But don’t tell Michigan coach John Beilein about being shorthanded.
Already without preseason All-American Mitch McGary, Beilein and the Wolverines have run off eight straight wins since losing a close one at home to No. 1 Arizona as others, namely Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford, have stepped in McGary’s place.
Michigan expects the same to happen for Michigan State in the absence of Payne and Dawson.
“They have two McDonald’s All-Americans out there,” Beilein said Friday. “Actually they have three if Dawson cannot play. Those two guys are like, you can put a lot of people around them and they have really talented players around them.
“You have everything you can do to plan for the team itself and then obviously Appling and Harris are so; Appling with so much experience and Harris such a talent.
“But Valentine is really good. All their big kids have these defined roles they play very well. So, it’s really sad to hear about Dawson because that’s unfortunate, he’s such a good player and obviously Payne to go through this during his senior year doesn’t seem right.
“Hopefully they’re going to be back in time for March because they can do some great things in March both for themselves and the league.”
For the immediate future, namely the match-up between the rivals this Saturday night, the starting lineup will be effected for Michigan State, something Michigan will account for, but beyond that, preparing for a Tom Izzo team remains similar.
“It changes match-ups obviously but not a great deal,” Beilein said. “They’re going to run the same plays, they’re going to pound it at you, they’re going to really play good defense; the defensive numbers are staggering how good they are.
“We’re trying to find weak links to attack, we can’t find them.”
Able to navigate a 6-0 start to Big Ten play, Michigan has shown few if any signs of missing Mitch McGary -- that’s not to say they wouldn’t take him, obviously.
One thing remains clear though; the Wolverines must be ready to see a focused and emotional Michigan State team at the Breslin Center, one motivated to play for their fallen teammates.
“I think initially there’s a time when you lose somebody, you can respond,” Beilein said. “And then there’s that period where you have to, everybody has got to get their timing back to the new stuff.
“Emotionally you’ll be able to carry through but usually it’s a few games after that where you’ll see some lag in where you want to go, but then you get used to it.
“They’re used to playing without Payne right now. As good as he is, as great a player, they’re used to that. When he comes back it’ll charge everybody up but you also have to get used to that and I’ve experienced that several times.
“You never can tell how a team is going to react to it when you lose great players like this.”