Two Michigan State basketball starters to miss High Point game because of COVID-19
East Lansing — As the omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to spread across the country causing cancellations and postponements around the sports world, it was going to be tough for any team to avoid some sort of disruption.
On Tuesday, that disruption hit Michigan State’s basketball team as coach Tom Izzo confirmed the Spartans will be without two starters and up to five players total when they host High Point at 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Breslin Center.
Senior Marcus Bingham Jr. and freshman Max Christie will be out after positive COVID tests while freshman reserve Pierre Brooks will be unavailable, as well. Walk-on Steven Izzo is also out while walk-on Davis Smith’s availability remains uncertain as of Tuesday afternoon.
“You’d like to have some consistency and continuity,” Izzo said on a Zoom session with reporters. “Bingham was just starting to come on and Max had his best game. So, everybody's going through it, so there’s no sense complaining about it. We’ve just got to deal with it, and we’ll deal with it. But the game plan is now right now that we'll have everybody by the day after the game.”
The means No. 10 Michigan State (10-2) expects to be at full strength — barring any new positive tests — when it returns to Big Ten action on Sunday at Northwestern.
“I’m 99% sure they'll be back the day after the game,” Izzo said. “So I guess there's some good news, but the bad news is you'd like to play this game and have a full set of people.”
Izzo said no staff members other than one manager have been affected.
In recent weeks, college basketball games around the country have been getting canceled or postponed, including plenty involving Big Ten teams. Ohio State, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Maryland, Rutgers and Penn State all have had their schedules affected because of COVID issues either in their program or the opponents.
Last season, Michigan State went through a 17-day shutdown when it had its own COVID outbreak. That is unlikely this season, considering all of Michigan State’s players have their vaccines and boosters while the protocols have changed, as well.
On Tuesday, the Big Ten announced new COVID protocols saying they will attempt to reschedule games that are canceled because of COVID while teams must have at least seven players and one coach available in order to play.
“Right now, we’re all good,” Izzo said of the coaching staff. “We’re kind of hunkered down in this building. It's home, then to the building. It's a little bit like last year, but it's been good. It's been fun to have the players back and we've done a great job kind of setting up where they're living, what they're doing, where they're eating. It’s been good.”
Assuming there are no other setbacks and Michigan State and High Point do, indeed, play on Wednesday afternoon — Izzo said he spoke with High Point coach Tubby Smith and the team was en route to East Lansing — there will be some changes to the Spartans’ lineup.
Julius Marble likely will step in for Bingham while Madi Sissoko should get some extended time, and in the backcourt, it could be a chance to play more with both point guards — Tyson Walker and A.J. Hoggard — on the floor together.
“We’re gonna play A.J. and Tyson together some, that could happen,” Izzo said. “But Madi and Julius will definitely (play). And I'm kind of excited about that in one respect, even though Marcus is really having a hell of a year. But Madi has been playing really, really well in practice, so I'm anxious to see how he does in a game.”
The game will be Michigan State’s second since Dec. 11, having last played Dec. 21 against Oakland in Detroit.
Izzo said the layoff, along with the COVID issues limiting some of the plans for extended practice time over the holiday break is a concern, but he’s still happy with where things stand just days before return to conference action.
“I like where we are right now, but it's always nerve-racking when you go through and play two games in 15 days,” Izzo said. “And then you got the COVID situation and everybody's keeping their fingers crossed, but I like where we are right now. I really do.
“I say let the games begin. I can't wait to get started again. After that, we start the Big Ten and we know what a war those 18 games are gonna be.”
High Point at No. 10 Michigan State
► Tip-off: 3 p.m. Wednesday, Breslin Center, East Lansing
► TV/radio: Big Ten Network/WJR 760
► Records: High Point 6-6; Michigan State 10-2
► Outlook: High Point junior guard John-Michael Wright leads the team with 21.1 points per game, which ranks ninth nationally. … Redshirt freshman guard Zack Austin, who has been named Big South Freshman of the Week four times this season, is second on the team with 13.9 points and leads the team with 7.5 rebounds.