When the Georgetown men’s basketball team steps onto the court at Madison Square Garden on Saturday afternoon for its game against seventh-ranked Michigan State, the Hoyas’ roster will be its most complete in more than three weeks.
That’s not to suggest Georgetown is anywhere near full strength. But getting reserve center Moses Ayegba back from an NCAA-mandated one-game suspension provides at least a ray of optimism during the team’s five-game losing streak, which has eroded its NCAA tournament hopes.
Ayegba sat out Monday night's 65-60 loss to No. 9 Villanova, leaving the Hoyas without two centers. Starter Joshua Smith, who has not played since Jan. 4, is out for the remainder of the season because of academic reasons, Coach John Thompson III announced last week.
Also buoying the Hoyas (11-9) to some degree has been the return of guard Jabril Trawick, a former starter, from a broken jaw. The defensive stalwart is working his way back into game shape after suffering the injury Jan. 8 during a 70-52 loss to Providence.
While the Hoyas have plummeted in the Big East standings amid the roster upheaval, their next opponent has thrived without a handful of front-line players. Michigan State (19-2) is coming off a 71-69 overtime triumph over Iowa that snapped the No. 15 Hawkeyes’ 20-game home winning streak. The Spartans did so without starters Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson.
“In that regard I guess we’re similar,” Thompson said of both teams absorbing hits to their rosters. “They’ve figured out how to get wins along the way, but I told our guys that there’s no need to talk about who’s not here. [Michigan State] is beat-up also, so we’ve just got to go play.”
Dawson broke his right (shooting) hand while slamming it on a desk in disgust during a film session Jan. 23 and required surgery. The junior forward is out indefinitely.
Payne has missed the last six games with a sprained right foot, and Spartans Coach Tom Izzo has hinted that rest would be preferable for his second-leading scorer rather than risk further injury in a nonconference game. Michigan State is a half-game behind Michigan in the Big Ten standings with nine conference games to go.
“I mean, a win against Georgetown is as important as a lot of wins,” Izzo said recently, “but it’s not as important as a Big Ten win.”
Izzo has been masterful at extracting the most of his substitution patterns despite using 11 starting lineups this season. In addition to Payne and Dawson, guard Gary Harris missed three games with a sore ankle, forward Matt Costello missed almost all of December with mononucleosis and guard Travis Trice missed two games, one with an infected blister and another because of illness.
Only Keith Appling, Denzel Valentine and Gavin Schilling have played in every game for the Spartans, who have won 12 of 13. Appling certainly could benefit from rest, and Izzo may limit playing time for his starting point guard or not use him at all Saturday.
Appling has been dealing with soreness in his hip and right wrist much of the season but has averaged 33 minutes and started 20 of 21 games. No other Michigan State player has started more than 17 games, and seven players have started at least six games.
Georgetown, meantime, has used four starting lineups and had nine players start at least one game. Only senior point guard Markel Starks and senior forward Nate Lubick have played and started in every game for the Hoyas, who have lost six of seven and seven of 11 games heading into their second all-time meeting with Michigan State.
“Where we are this year, we have to get a win,” Thompson said. “I don’t necessarily like having out-of-conference games in the middle of conference play, particularly against an opponent like this, but the league asked us to do it, Fox asked us to do it, so here we are.”