One wonders if Michigan State's basketball team will enter Carver-Hawkeye Arena with a fife and drum Tuesday.
The Big Ten's most-glorious men's basketball program of the last 16 years is only a game out of first-place at 6-1, and has its usual complement of great talent. But this is a tough patch for Tom Izzo's dynasty.
First, star power forward Adreian Payne (16.2 points, 7.7 rebounds per game) has missed the last five games with a foot injury.
Then, forward Brendan Dawson (10.2 points, 8.7 rebounds) slammed his hand on a table in frustration, broke a bone in it, and is out for a month.
Guard Keith Appling (15.4 points, 4.9 assists) played 37 minutes with an injured right wrist in MSU's 80-75 loss to league-leading Michigan Saturday night. Appling had 10 points and 10 assists, a performance that left Izzo very emotional after the game.
"Coach saw what Keith did out there, what Keith's done the past two or three days. Heck, the last two weeks," MSU forward Matt Costello said. "Ya'll don't understand how hurt he is. For him to come out there like that, he put his heart on the line. And coach saw that. That's why he was like that. Everybody else did their job, played hard. But Keith put his heart on the line for us. We just didn't finish the game for him."
"I can't even shoot," Appling said.
"It's a little sore, but give it a couple days and I'll be alright"
There's no pity in big-time sports. Iowa catches the Spartans Tuesday, and the odds of facing them with two starters out and a third not himself are long indeed. This is still a very good team. Sophomore guard Gary Harris is as good a player as anyone in the league. Appling is a warrior. Denzel Valentine is a player.
But this Michigan State program that has appeared in the last 16 NCAA tournaments is ripe for the picking Tuesday night in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. OK, "ripe for the picking" is an exaggeration. Not this program with this coach and these players. But ... an 11-deep, healthy Hawkeyes team has to win this one.