The weight of injuries and absences pulled Georgetown's season in the wrong direction.
Nearly every member of Michigan State's roster has dealt with bumps, bruises and then some this season.
Perhaps before Saturday's game at Madison Square Garden John Thompson III and Tom Izzo can kvetch to each other as fellow coaches about dealing with a heavy dose of missed games.
“In that regard I guess we’re similar,” Thompson said on Friday from McDonough Arena before acknowledging the biggest difference between the Big East and Big Ten programs. The Hoyas (11-9) are desperate for a win after losing five straight and six of seven, all without center Josh Smith, who will miss the remainder of the season due to an academic ineligibility.
Izzo and the No. 7 ranked Spartans (19-2) remain a national contender despite their tale of woe and ouch.
"They’ve figured out how to get wins along the way, but I told our guys that," Thompson said. "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.”
The return of center Moses Ayegba, a late scratch before Monday's loss to Villanova due to a one-game NCAA suspension, helps Georgetown's frontcourt depth. Jabril Trawick will play his second game since the junior guard missed five with a broken jaw. That's as close to a full roster as the Hoyas have had since Jan. 8 loss at Providence, the first game without Smith and the game Trawick suffered his injury.
Izzo, who turned 59 on Thursday, has directed Michigan State to six Final Fours and one national championship during 19 seasons. The Spartans might have 19 different starting lineups by season's end. They're up to 11 already and Izzo reportedly hinted at yet another lineup change for the neutral-court contest, according to Mlive.com.
Only three of the Spartans have actually played in all 21 games. Keith Appling is among the trio not to have missed a game, but the senior guard has played through wrist pain since a fall against North Carolina on Dec. 4. An ankle injury kept leading scorer and NBA Draft lottery prospect Gary Harris (18.3) out for three games. Izzo suspended forward Kenny Kaminski on two separate occasions. The redshirt freshman with a good shooting touch missed seven games overall, but started the last two.
That's just a brief look at some of the Spartans actually set to face the Hoyas. Michigan State will be without second-leading scorer and Adreian Payne (foot) for a seventh straight game. Fellow starting forward Branden Dawson will miss third straight game. MSU's top rebounder had surgery on his hand, which broke while slamming it on a table during a team film session and bout of frustration.
All that and the Spartans have won 12 of 13 including a 71-69 overtime win at No. 15 on Tuesday. Michigan State sits 1/2 game out of first place in the competitive Big Ten conference.
Now the two physical teams play a rare non-conference game in February as part of a Super Bowl themed college basketball doubleheader.
"This is a big game, a big opportunity for us at Madison Square Garden, a place we love to play, a place where we've been pretty good in the past," senior forward Nate Lubick said. "A Big Ten team during conference play isn't something we've really done since I've been here. ...we need a win."
Georgetown returns to conference action on Monday with a rematch against DePaul. Whether the opponent is from the Big Ten, the Big East or the Big Easy, the struggling Hoyas need a big victory, any victory.
“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.”