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Michigan State Men’s Basketball: Spartans appear to be on track to play Rutgers

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Michigan State Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

After a long delay due to COVID-19 issues within the program, which forced the Michigan State men’s basketball team to postpone its past three games, the Spartans were able to hold a team practice on Monday with 10 (out of 15) players. Although a few players were still missing, this was the first time in 12 days MSU was able to practice as a team and it puts the Spartans on track to play an away game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Thursday night (7 p.m. EST on FS1).

Speaking on his weekly radio show, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo appeared hopeful that the Spartans will be able to get back to competition this week, albeit short-handed.

“We’re playing Thursday as far as I know,” Izzo said. “That’s all I’m focused on.”

During the pause, Michigan State missed one road game against the Iowa Hawkeyes (originally scheduled for Jan. 14), and two home games against the Indiana Hoosiers (originally scheduled for Jan. 17) and Illinois Fighting Illini (originally scheduled for Jan. 23).

The Spartans last played a game on Jan. 8 against the Purdue Boilermakers, which ended up being a one-point heartbreaking loss for MSU after giving up a massive lead to Purdue.

Now, though, Izzo is fairly confident that the team can travel and play against Rutgers on Thursday.

“On Wednesday, we’re taking off,” Izzo said. “Whoever can play is gonna play, and whoever can coach is gonna coach. We’re just gonna go there and try to play our tail off against a team that was playing very well before we played them the first time, and then went on a four-game losing streak, and then played very well (Sunday) at Indiana.”

Michigan State easily defeated Rutgers by a final score of 68-45 on Jan. 5 in East Lansing. However, it is difficult to predict how the Spartans will perform as it will be 20 days in between games, while Rutgers has only missed one game this season (Jan. 12 against Penn State) and has played four games since MSU has last competed.

Michigan State has had four players recently test positive for the virus: freshman Mady Sissoko, graduate student Joshua Langford, sophomore Steven Izzo and freshman Davis Smith. There were also two staff members who recently tested positive: strength and conditioning coach Marshall Repp and graduate manager (and former Spartan basketball player) Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr.

Tom Izzo said Sissoko isolated for 10 days and has since returned to practice. But it is unclear if Steven Izzo or Langford are back with the team. Smith is the most recent player to test positive on Jan. 17, and he remains in isolation.

Rutgers enters the game with an 8-6 overall record (4-6 in Big Ten play), and is coming off of a 74-70 road win over Indiana. Michigan State enters the contest with an 8-4 overall record (2-4 in conference play).

Of course, things can change quickly as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc across the world, and nothing is guaranteed, but as of now, it sounds like Spartan basketball will return on Thursday night.