Tom Izzo's teams play tough nonconference schedules. At the end of the year, they're almost always better prepared for the NCAA tournament because of it. But tough, travel-heavy non-con slates do take their toll, especially on players recovering from injuries.
Such is the case with Kalin Lucas. Lucas has been productive in his return from last year's season-ending Achilles tear, but Izzo has told reporters all along that he expected Lucas to have an early-season recovery curve, and thus far, he's been right. From the Detroit Free Press:
On Saturday, senior leader Kalin Lucas complained of stiffness in the left Achilles tendon that was ruptured in March and asked not to play in the second half against Bowling Green unless MSU really needed him. The Spartans beat the Falcons, 74-39.
"I told you at the beginning of the year that I didn't think that Kalin would be Kalin until the middle of December, end of December," Izzo said after that game. "I said the Maui thing would tell a lot."
Again, Lucas has been good -- he's averaging 14.9 points in 28.1 minutes per game this season -- but he hasn't looked all the way right. Wednesday's game at Duke was in line with this observation. Lucas was fine, but he wasn't his typically explosive self, and it was noticeable on several finishes near the rim where Lucas seemed to lack the strength to hold a larger defender off with his body and finish the play. The guard is missing maybe a half-step or so of his usual speed. That speed is what makes a healthy Lucas unguardable with the ball in his hands.
Anyway, Michigan State's brutal nonconference schedule rolls on with a game versus Syracuse in New York City tonight. It'll be interesting to see if the rest against Bowling Green will yield a faster Lucas. If so, maybe the Spartans start treating Lucas like a recovering major league pitcher, using games against lighter competition to allow him rest and recovery. Post-Syracuse dates include games against Oakland on Dec. 11 and Prairie View A&M on Dec. 18. The opportunity is there.