Michigan State's Miles Bridges to return Wednesday: Three things to know
The star freshman has missed seven straight games with an ankle injury
Bridges, who has missed the last seven games with an ankle injury, was averaging 16.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game before playing his last game of the 2016 calendar year against Duke in a loss. Without him Michigan State weathered the storm during his seven-game absence and rolled to a 6-1 record, but they will gladly welcome him back as Big Ten play amps up.
Below are three things you need to know about his expected return and what it means for Michigan State moving forward.
1. Easing him back onto the floor will be key
Sure, he's the best player on the team. But it's been more than a month since he's played in a live game. Not only will it take Bridges time to get back into game shape, but his specific injury requires more transition time than other injuries might.
Bridges himself said he was ready to return after missing just one game. But after listening to trainers, Michigan State elected to play it safe and make sure he was 100 percent healthy before putting him on the floor again. Tom Izzo says he won't start on Wednesday against Rutgers.
"Our job is to try and get him some minutes if everything goes well tonight and tomorrow, then we can see if we can build on that," Izzo told the Detroit Free Press on Monday.
Easing him in and perhaps keeping him on a minutes restriction as they monitor his progress back on the floor will be important.
2. Michigan State has learned to win without Bridges
It's never a convenient time to lose one of your best players. But Michigan State has been able to find ways to win without Bridges. As mentioned, the Spartans are 6-1 since his injury, including a gritty overtime win over Minnesota on the road.
They've been able to sustain success by getting huge contributions from key players who have taken advantage of the extra scoring opportunities -- notably two other freshman. Cassius Winston's points per game average has doubled, up to 10.9 from 4.9 before Bridges' injury, and frosh power forward Nick Ward has averaged 17.1 points during that same time period -- up from 10.5 when Bridges was healthy.
This is a different team from the last time Bridges was suiting up.
3. Michigan State's NCAA Tournament streak may hinge upon Bridges health
Bridges won't be starting, and it's probably not fair to assume he will be the same player right away. But his presence alone is an extra body in the rotation where depth has been hard to come by for Tom Izzo.
Michigan State has been without Gavin Schilling. So losing Bridges back in November was a blow to the depth of the frontcourt the team wasn't built to withstand for the long term. With him back and presumably healthy, the Spartans' hope of continuing it's streak of 19 straight NCAA Tournament appearances should be fully intact.
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