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Ailing Georgia makes MSU's job harder in tournament

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Michigan State has had its share of injuries in the past two seasons, so it knows all about adjusting on the fly.

But that will make its preparation for Friday's NCAA Tournament game against Georgia more difficult. Not because the Spartans are ailing, but because the Bulldogs have been hampered by injuries all season and have question marks heading into the meeting.

Junior guard Kenny Gaines, Georgia's second-leading scorer and one of its top perimeter defenders, missed last weekend's loss to Arkansas in the Southeastern Conference tournament semifinals with a sprained left foot. Backup guard Juwan Parker was bothered by an Achilles injury in the loss and played six minutes.

"Mark (Fox) has battled through some injuries and he's battled through a couple players that left early by surprise," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "And through all the injuries this year, the hard part about scouting them … It's hard to say about where they were in the depth chart."

Gaines started and scored nine in Georgia's victory over South Carolina in the quarterfinals. He aggravated the injury during the game and went to the bench and took off his shoe, but later returned.

"I was just frustrated I couldn't do the things I wanted to do out there on the court," Gaines said. "It started hurting me but it was more frustration. I just hate being injured and not being able to give 100 percent to my team."

While only one player has seen action in the NCAA Tournament, the Bulldogs are not short on experience. The starting lineup consists of two seniors, two juniors and a sophomore.

And they proved they won't be intimidated.

"They played Kentucky two close games," Izzo said. "Everybody knows they had a seven-point lead with six minutes left, seven minutes left, whatever it was, just a couple weeks ago. So they have shown that they can play.

"So when you get a good team that's got some veterans on it and you've got a very, very good coach who has done an incredible job through the last couple years there under the circumstance he's been played in, we have our hands full with the opener."

Deep in experience

Most people filling out a bracket will be penciling in No. 1 Kentucky.

And if Izzo was doing one, he'd likely do the same. The last time he remembers a team so heavily favored was in 2009 when Michigan State lost to North Carolina in the championship game.

"Watching a little bit of Kentucky the other day, you can see why," Izzo said. "They learned to play together now, and they have gotten better as a team. But it is the NCAA Tournament. March brings some funny things.

"And I just think that I've never seen a team this deep as Kentucky is, and really deep in experience for them because they have got that class that was there last year and has been through it. So it's not like they have guys that haven't been through some of it. And that helps."

Big Ten vs. Kentucky

A couple of Big Ten teams are in the Midwest region with Kentucky, and No. 9 Purdue could see the Wildcats in the third round. Fourth-seeded Maryland could play Kentucky in the Sweet 16.

"They both have two things I think that would give them a puncher's chance: size and depth," Izzo said. "I think you're going to need size, and I think you're going to need depth.

"I think Purdue is the toughest of the two. I think Maryland might be the more talented. Maryland has got a little more size on the perimeter, but they do have size inside."