Tom Izzo here with bad news for MSU basketball -- Denzel Valentine suffered a knee injury, out 2-3 weeks, had arthroscopic surgery this AM.— Joe Rexrode (@joerexrode) December 21, 2015
So this isn't good. MSU has arguably been the best team in college basketball and they've held the #1 ranking for the past three weeks. However, MSU without National Player of the Year frontrunner Valentine may have 4 losses at this point (Kansas, Providence, Louisville, Florida). Izzo announced that Eron Harris will replace Valentine in the starting lineup and that there should be no lasting effects to this injury.
I've been keeping track of everyone's Plus-Minus with excel formulas and the MSU official box score which say when players are subbed in and out. While the media has this available too, my sheet can also track how a player does when he's on the court with and without Valentine. Without any further ado, here it is:
With Valentine on the floor
With Valentine off the floor
[Because Valentine is on the court so often, these number shouldn't be compared apples-to-apples as the "on the floor" raw numbers are going to be higher due to the large amount of playing time]
The single most glaring difference is McQuaid who has a great Plus-Minus when Valentine is on the floor but an awful one when he's off. After that the team has been quite clearly worse with Valentine off the floor as almost everyone has a negative Plus-Minus with Valentine off the floor during top 50 and 100 games. The two exceptions at first glance appear to be Harris and Ellis but in reality they probably just haven't on the floor without Valentine very much as Ellis has a "0" in all five top 100 games and Harris has a "0" in three of them.
These numbers are extremely discouraging. When I went into this I was thinking that we'd see positive numbers with Valentine on the floor and much smaller positive numbers with him off the floor meaning that he's just on the court most of the time but they're doing okay without him. Seeing almost everyone negative is a very bad sign for MSU going forward.
Who Steps Up?
As KJ pointed out on twitter, Valentine's injury accelerates the search for the #2 creator on the team. Forbes has been the clear #2 scorer right now but he's shooting twice as many 3's as he is 2's and all of his made 3's have been assisted on. Nairn has shown some ability to get to the rim in especially in the last game but that's him being a blur in transition rather than being able to consistently create in the frontcourt. McQuaid has shown flashes but the numbers say he struggles when Valentine is off the floor. Harris looks to be the most obvious candidate right now but he's been inconsistent and his shot selection has been very questionable at times. If I had to guess I'd go with Harris as the one who benefits the most but it might get very interesting at times.
Looking at the schedule
If the injury last three weeks, Valentine will miss Oakland, at Iowa, at Minnesota, Illinois, and at Penn State. Frankly this is probably one of the easier stretches of the season as those last three opponents are all KenPom 100+ teams. Oakland is a sneaky hard game as they have one of the best offensive players in the country in Kahlil Felder who 2nd in the country in scoring and 1st in assists. They also just got transfer wing Martez Walker to be eligible who scored a very efficient 18 points in a win over Washington. The road game at Iowa is definitely going to be the hardest game as they're #18 in KenPom and they have Jarrod Uthoff who's been playing at an All-American level right now including averaging 18.7 points and 3 blocks per game.
MSU should hope to come out of this stretch with a 4-1 record. While it might not feel great to get a loss, this could actually help MSU in the long run as guys are going to have to create for themselves and not rely on Valentine so much. Right now it appears that when Valentine is off the floor, the team is just buying time until Valentine can come back in and save the day. MSU won't have that luxury anymore and this going to really test everyone else.