Morgan key to Michigan State's success
But Michigan State forward Raymar Morgan's health might have an even bigger impact on how his team fares at this weekend's Final Four at Ford Field.
Morgan, a junior from Canton, Ohio, looked like a budding star earlier this season. He averaged 15.2 points and 6.9 rebounds through his team's first 16 games, scoring 29 in a victory over Oklahoma State and 21 in a loss to North Carolina.
But then Morgan contracted walking pneumonia and mononucleosis in mid-January. After scoring 17 points and grabbing five rebounds in a 78-73 win at Penn State on Jan. 14, Morgan scored only 15 points combined in the next five games. Doctors discovered what was wrong with Morgan, and he didn't play in MSU's next three games. He returned to the court during a 72-54 loss at Purdue on Feb. 17.
Morgan hasn't been nearly the same player he was earlier this season, averaging 6.5 points and 3.9 rebounds in 12 games. He scored 10 points or more in only three games since returning from his three-game absence.
"Raymar's had a good week of practice," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. "He had a good week of practice last week. I think mentally, honestly, I think he's been a little bit beat up. I think his confidence has been hurt a little bit. Yet in saying that, it's nothing he can't recover from. When it's hard to recover is when you've never done it before. He's done it before and he's done it on a pretty consistent basis the first 14 games of this season."
But if Michigan State is going to beat Connecticut in front of what will undoubtedly be a home crowd on Saturday, Morgan will have to be more consistent now.
After scoring 16 points against No. 15 seed Robert Morris in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Morgan has scored only seven points combined in the last three NCAA tournament games. He didn't score at all in MSU's 64-52 upset of No. 1 seed Louisville in the Midwest Regional final, taking only two shots from the floor.
Izzo said Morgan struggled against Louisville while wearing a "hockey mask." Morgan broke his nose during MSU's 67-62 victory over defending national champion Kansas in the Midwest Regional semifinals. He will wear a smaller mask against the Huskies.
"It's definitely a lighter mask, tighter fit on my face," Morgan said. "They made the eyes bigger so I can see out of my peripheral and things of that nature. It's just a complete better fit for me."
Izzo can only hope Morgan is a better player this weekend.
"I still say he's a big key to our success this weekend, if we have some," Izzo said.