Spartans need reserves to step up

The regular season for the Michigan State Spartans (20-10) is long gone and the post season is where they are used to doing their damage.

EAST LANSING - The regular season for the Michigan State Spartans (20-10) is long gone and the post season is where they are used to doing their damage.

The Spartans, under coach Tom Izzo, have made a living in the post season, thriving in the neutral floor environment and with referees that aren't as whistle happy as those in the Big Ten.

MSU has gone to four Final Four appearances in the last eight years with a heavy dose of physical play and some sharp shooting from the outside to overwhelm their opponents.

But unless MSU reclaims their old physical presence - including tough interior defense and strong rebounding - their going to find the post season looks a whole lot like the regular season.

For MSU, injuries threaten to serious impair their ability to make a run at a Big Ten Tournament championship and a run to the 2006 Final Four.

Power forward Matt Trannon, who came into the year as a bit player, has become the Spartans 2006 version of Antonio Smith.

Smith was the prototype of the MSU power forward position - a tough, rugged, strong rebounding, layup making machine, capable to shutting down the opposition's top scoring forward and kicking out a rebound to the fast breaking Spartan guards.

No one expected Trannon to be that guy, but the 6-foot-8 wide receiver turned big man, has been more effective than anyone, including Tom Izzo, could have hoped for.

"We're not the most physical team and he brings a little physicality to us," Izzo said of Trannon's inside presence. "He's a versatile guy who can guard guards on the perimeter and he can guard big guys inside. We just don't have many of those kind of players who are quick enough to do that like Alan Anderson did (last season)."

But Trannon was struck by an elbow from Michigan's Graham Brown and has been out of the MSU lineup. It's no coincidence that the Spartans have lost five of their last seven and four of those came with Trannon out of the lineup.

MSU had hoped that forward Marquise Gray, a pivotal recruit from Flint Beecher two seasons ago, would be ready to step up into the Smith role, but Gray was plagued by foul trouble and an inability to convert opportunities from the field. Then the unthinkable happened; Gray suffered a broken foot against Wisconsin and was lost for the season.

So with Trannon limited and Gray out (backup center Drew Naymick took a medical redshirt season), MSU must turned to a threesome of players who haven't shown that they can get the job done; 6-foot-11 redshirt freshman Idong Ibok, 6-foot-10 sophomore Goran Suton, and 6-foot-8 fourth year junior Delco Rowley.

MSU tried to go with a four guard lineup, using freshman Travis Walton in the backcourt, but the move appeared to backfire when the Spartans defense suffered from using such a short bench rotation.

Rowley, who participated in Senior Day and likely will not return to Michigan State despite having a year of eligibility left, played 15 minutes against Indiana, 12 minutes against Wisconsin and 16 minutes against Illinois. He will likely get the bulk of the playing time in Thursday's Big Ten Tournament opener against Purdue, the 11th seed.

Rowley's MSU career has been hampered by injuries that have robbed him of most of his effectiveness. Expect to be a key component after coming to MSU from Indianapolis, IN, Rowley struggled with injuries including the dreaded sports hernia, which kept him out of the lineup most of last season.

"Just like I forgot about the sports hernia that quick. It's hard to keep up with everything [that's happened]. I never got hurt in high school. When I came here, that's when I started getting hurt."

He will get the chance to finish his MSU career out with a bang if he can show flashes of the player MSU expected him to be. He is the "X" factor in a possible run for MSU in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments

All MSU would like to see from Ibok and Suton, who has shown the ability to score in limited appearances, is giving them a lift off the bench, rather than a letdown. A solid combined ten minutes in relief of Trannon or Rowley, MSU would be a much better team than they showed down the stretch. Izzo said of Suton, "he's getting better. I'm pleased with the progress he's making."

Izzo said he hopes Rowley is ready to finally step up to the plate. "He has the strength to battle guys, but I think the biggest asset he brings us is his experience," Izzo said. "He knows where to be and where to go."

As for Trannon, he was fitted for a mask, much like the one worn by Richard Hamilton and Antonio McDyess of the Detroit Pistons and participated in portions of MSU's last practice, but seemed to struggle and have difficulty breathing with the mask and mouthpiece. But his MSU teammate Paul Davis showed no sympathy for his injured teammate

"He really does look like Hannibal Lecter," Davis told the media. "I thought he was scary looking and ugly before he had the mask on. You've got to hide the women and children when he's around."

The coach also has hopes that Trannon can be a part of the solution for the Spartans.

"If it's the bone healing and [Trannon] being able to take a little pain, and not hurt it ... he can take some pain. And that's what I'm basing it on; I think he can take some pain."

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