Originally posted on The Sports Bank  |  Last updated 3/8/12

He clutched his knee and grimaced.

With the help of trainers, MSU freshman freak athlete Branden Dawson limped to the bench only to see his freshman campaign sidelined during the most crucial part of the season.

While we see ACL injuries far too much in the college game, the lingering after effects for the individual are the primary focus, and rightfully so, but what does Dawson’s injury mean for the Spartans?

For one thing, look for senior transfer Brandon Wood, freshman Travis Trice and even freshman Brandan Kearney to get more minutes and play even bigger roles for the Spartans down the stretch. Even in Saturday’s loss against the Buckeyes, Wood went off for 15 points, shooting 3-7 from 3 point land and 50% from the field. The last time Wood banked 15 points or more against a ranked opponent this season was in the Spartans’ early season loss to Duke. The senior’s energy is also an added aspect to his game, and his presence served as a major boost for the Spartans after Dawson was injured on Saturday.

While the senior has seen the court in every game this season and averaged a lofty 25 minutes a game, his role will most likely increase in Dawson’s absence. They may share the same name (with a different spelling), but their numbers are about the same–Wood has averaged about 8 points per game (like Dawson) and helped crash the boards with an average of 3.0 rebounds per game. Like Green and Austin Thornton, this is Wood’s last chance to make that deep run toward winning a NCAA championship. If that isn’t motivation enough for Wood to wear this bigger role well, then what is?

For Brandan Kearney, who averages 8.8 minutes per game, he’ll need to have those shoelaces tied and limbs stretched because his playing time is likely to increase. In the loss against the Buckeyes, Kearney saw his number called and he played 12 minutes. In the Spartans’ last three games, Kearney has averaged a slight increase in minutes played (about 11), and he won’t give the squad much on the offensive end, but defensively he’s a young player and a pair of fresh legs that these Michigan State guys averaging many minutes a game can appreciate.

The one player that may benefit the most, though, could be fellow freshman Travis Trice–but only if he manages to return to full strength himself. While an ankle injury earlier this season held the freshman out of five games this season, he had a scare recently. Trice retweaked his right ankle injury in practice earlier this week and had to be helped off the floor.

As the Detroit Free Press reported, Izzo initially thought the freshman guard broke his right ankle, but later tests turned out negative. Trice is expected to return in time for the Big Ten Tournament, and his presence will be important because Izzo will look to use a smaller line-up more often. Look for Trice to play more than the 14 total minutes he played in the Spartans’ past two losses.

Dawson’s injury also puts a spotlight on a defensive aspect of Michigan State’s game.

While the Spartans are one of the top rebounding teams in the college game, Dawson’s effort played a role in this stat. The forward grabbed an average of 4.5 boards a game, second on the team behind Draymond Green. The Spartans’ two big men–Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne–will need to crash the glass even harder and even more than usual to fill this void. While both big men average about 8 boards collectively for the Spartans, they will need to be ready to get after it now that the squad just lost a pair of  important hands in the board-grabbing contest.

While Dawson had a successful knee surgery, his recovery process will keep him out for a few months, but the process looks to be quicker than expected. He was able to have his surgery three weeks earlier than planned because he did not experience significant swelling. Therefore, a 6-month return could be in his cards.

For now, the Gary, Indiana native will have to become a student of the game from outside the playing lineup, and hopefully his view from the bench will include the sights and scenes of New Orleans, where the Big Dance comes to a close.

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