MSU mailbag: Basketball injuries, football signs, ESPN visit

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Kyle Ahrens

Welcome to the arctic freeze edition of the Michigan State mailbag. We’re doing our best to keep warm by answering all your questions regarding the Spartans.

Even with the basketball team getting a few days off, there’s still plenty of interest in the first-place Spartans, though much of it surrounds the status of injured guards Joshua Langford and Kyle Ahrens, something that took an unfortunate twist for the Spartans on Wednesday when it was revealed Langford was out for the season.

We also take a dive back into football as spring practice is still a couple months away and the coaching staff is on the road for recruiting.

And, of course, we give our opinion on ESPN coming to town for College GameDay on Saturday.

► Question. How bout we just platoon (Joshua) Langford & (Kyle) Ahrens? Each plays one game per week, giving each a full week to recover. -- @patrickagains

► Answer. Well, this one changed pretty dramatically on Wednesday evening when Michigan State announced that Langford was lost for the season with what is being called a "stress reaction" in his left ankle. The Spartans have been cruising along without Langford, who has missed the last eight games. But there was hardly anyone who believed they didn't need the junior guard back to make a legitimate run this March. That's not to say Michigan State can't still win the Big Ten and make a push to the Final Four, but the margin for error has essentially disappeared.

It all makes Ahrens' status all the more important. He was full-go in practice on Tuesday and said he hopes to play Saturday against Indiana. The case with Ahrens is a simple one – he’s got a bad back that, as many folks know (especially as we get older), can be fickle. You can feel great for a few days and then, one wrong move or twist and things get all out of whack.

It’s just as Ahrens explained when I asked him about re-injuring it at Iowa last week. He said he dove to the ground for a loose ball, tried to get up and felt a pain shoot down his back, making him lose his breath for a second. But it’s something that can respond quickly, and that’s where Ahrens and the Spartans are right now. He should be OK by Saturday and they’ll keep their fingers crossed that he doesn’t tweak it again.

If Ahrens continues to go in and out of the lineup, that puts even more pressure on freshmen Aaron Henry and Gabe Brown, who both will need to mature quickly.

► Q. Where are all these so called "fans" that were "complaining" about an 18-3 start? Was that some kind of a troll question by a reporter?  -- @randycharb

► A. Hmmm. I’ll do the best I can here without taking a shot at anyone. I’m not sure where the complaining is. I haven’t heard much of it. There was a question at Izzo’s news conference on Tuesday from a reporter who referenced the complaints. Maybe that reporter has heard them. I don’t know. But Izzo also mentioned going on a couple of radio shows the day before and being asked about people jumping off the bandwagon, so I’m sure that’s where some of his response came from. Either way, I’m not getting bombarded with folks panicking about the season.

Brian Lewerke

► Q. What should we look for in spring practice to make us (and you) think that the offense will be up to a satisfactory standard (which I'll define as being as good as the 2017 offense)? I'm not asking for the moon. I simply want competence. -- @DavidJa88692244

► A. Well, this brings up some of the problem with making any grand conclusions from spring practice. Rarely do you hear anything but good news and optimism from the coaching staff, and trying to judge progress when playing a scrimmage is even tougher. Think of some of the spring game stars from the past who never really contributed once the leaves stared to change. The other problem is the fact Michigan State, typically, splits the teams and it’s not ones against ones or twos against twos. That can skew any real progress, as well.

So, I guess what I’m saying is it will be hard to see the real progress up front, which I believe is Michigan State’s biggest issue. The offensive line struggled for much of the season, and I’m not sure we’ll have a chance to see any progress until they play actual games.

There are some things you can watch, like does Brian Lewerke have the zip back on his throws, are the young backs seeing the holes better, how do some of the young defensive backs look? Spring is good to see who might be making a move on the depth chart, but I’m not sure it’s the best way to judge true progress.

► Q. Things have been pretty quiet from the MSU football program since the coaching changes.  Hearing of anyone looking to get out? -- @mjgoshko

► A. Nothing specific, in terms of the coaching staff. You always hear rumors and rumblings, but as of now most of the staff has been out recruiting, so I wouldn’t say anything is imminent. In fact, my guess is the changes Mark Dantonio made will remain in place by the time the season starts. That’s not a guarantee. You never know what shuffling could still happen on other staffs, and I’d bet at least a couple of MSU assistants would be willing to move. As of now, though, it seems things are set on the staff.

► Q. What are your thoughts as a fellow media member to MSU extending the welcome mat to ESPN GameDay to visit campus after it (Paula Lavigne in particular) ran some highly misleading, inaccurate and inflammatory reports attempting to link Tom Izzo, Mark Dantonio to Larry Nassar? -- @SpartyH

► A. As a fellow media member it doesn’t really matter to me what decisions Michigan State makes when it comes to how it handles ESPN. Quite frankly, I’m more worried about how they interact with me. That said, I understand the anger/frustration a lot of fans have with everything that went down a year ago.

I’ll take Tom Izzo at his word, that he believes this is a critical step. He sees the college basketball guys he’s close with as being separate from last season’s problems. Agree or not, that’s the stance he’s taken. And the reality is, ESPN and the Big Ten are still partners and there is value to a program for taking part in the show. So I guess I’m indifferent to it. I don’t think it’s great. I don’t think it’s awful. Hopefully it all turns out positive Saturday morning, but I won’t be critical of anyone who believes MSU should have said no.

Twitter: @mattcharboneau