Truth be told, Michigan State point guard Keith Appling (11) would rather have the weekend off, but playing in Madison Square Garden isn't a bad consolation prize. (Dale G. Young / Detroit News)
East Lansing — Michigan State hasn’t played a non-conference game in the middle of the Big Ten season in a little more than five years, and all things being equal, the Spartans would rather not be doing it now.
But there’s no changing the schedule, and that means No. 7 Michigan State will face Georgetown at 3 p.m. Saturday at Madison Square Garden, the day before the Super Bowl is played in New York.
“I would rather have the weekend off,” senior guard Keith Appling said. “But it’s Madison Square Garden, an exciting place to play. I would never want to miss out on the opportunity to play there. It’s worth not having the weekend off.”
The Spartans are in the thick of the Big Ten race and are coming off an impressive overtime victory over Iowa on Tuesday.
Coach Tom Izzo said Thursday he would have been fine not playing the game but understands players and their love of playing in one of basketball’s most iconic venues on one of the biggest weekends of the year in sports.
“Like my guys said, Madison Square Garden, for a basketball player, is utopia,” he said. “It will be another chance to see if we can stay focused on the task we have and still enjoy the situation.”
While Michigan State will again be without Adreian Payne (sprained right foot) and Branden Dawson (broken right hand), Izzo is also contemplating adjusting how much he uses some other key players, including Appling.
The point guard has been battling through wrist and hip injuries, and Izzo said he could play Appling fewer minutes if the situation allowed him to do so. But it’s not exactly the way Appling sees things.
“If he did say something to me about that I don’t think that conversation would go too well,” Appling said. “It’s basketball. You’re gonna get a little tired. It’s a long season; it’s just something you’ve got to fight through.”
A more likely adjustment could be taking redshirt freshman Kenny Kaminski out of the starting lineup. He has started the last two games since Dawson went out, but his shooting has suffered. In those two games, Kaminski is 3-for-12 from the field and just 1-for-8 from 3-point range.
Izzo didn’t say for sure he would make a move, but he is concerned with how Kaminski has responded.
“That’s one problem starting a guy is that sometimes it isn’t a good idea,” Izzo said. “They’re nervous enough already, and I think that has something to do with it. He hasn’t shot the ball very well after shooting it well for a year and a half.”
Izzo officially ruled Payne out for Saturday’s game but is confident the senior can start getting back into game action next Thursday when Michigan State hosts Penn State.
Payne went through limited workouts Thursday while continuing to ride the bike and swim to keep his conditioning.
“He’s on the bike and he’s getting ornery and he doesn’t like it,” Izzo said. “I don’t blame him. … He’s making progress and we probably won’t practice him this week but next week, if everything keeps going, maybe by Monday (he will practice).”
Izzo: Celebrate later
Thursday was Izzo’s 59th birthday, but he wasn’t planning on doing anything but working.
“Just another day,” he said. “Summer is for celebrating. I’ve never been a big guy for celebrating birthdays or New Year’s. But as you can imagine, we’ve got a lot of work to do with this team. So I’ll work tonight. There is a lot of time for celebrating later.”