Denzel Valentine will miss 2-3 weeks after undergoing minor knee surgery to repair cartilage damage. He sustained the injury in practice, landing awkwardly after a layup. Valentine, a senior, has been a huge part of Michigan State's early success; huge might even be an understatement. The Spartans are undefeated (12-0) and number one in the country (Coach's and AP Polls).
Although it required surgery, the injury appears to be minor, and 2-3 weeks is the timeline for his return. Let's take a look at what his absence could mean, especially as Michigan State moves into Big Ten play.
Coach Tom Izzo won't likely find a replacement for Valentine's production. Valentine leads the team in minutes (30.6), points (18.5), rebounds (8.3) and assists (7.1) per game. He's recorded two triple-doubles, and has scored more than 25 points in four games already, including the Spartans' huge neutral court victory over Kansas.
More than likely, no one guy will be able to replace those numbers; instead, a couple guys will have to take on larger roles. Izzo will start junior Eron Harris, according to Joe Rexrode from the Detroit Free Press. Matt McQuaid and Deyonta Davis should also see more minutes in an attempt to fill Valentine's void.
At the moment, Valentine will miss three games, and maybe a fourth. The Spartans play Oakland tonight. The game is significant because Michigan State's going for 13-0, or the best start in school history. Big picture though, it's obviously more important for Valentine to be healthy in January/February/March (and in general).
After Oakland, Michigan State opens Big Ten play at Iowa. Missing Valentine for this game clearly isn't ideal. His leadership and playmaking ability have been incredibly valuable in tight contests. The Spartans then go to Minnesota on January 2nd. Oakland, Iowa and Minnesota are three games Valentine will surely miss, and he could also miss Michigan State's Big Ten home opener against Illinois on January 7th.
Oakland is 7-3, but the only scary game is Iowa on the road. (No shocker here, but it'd be really nice to have Valentine in a tough environment, against a solid team.) Without Valentine, Michigan State should get by Oakland, Minnesota and Illinois, without too much trouble, but Iowa looms as the toughest challenge.
As Izzo states above, the Spartans have depth, and looking at the glass half full, it's an opportunity for other players to step up in Valentine's absence, which will prepare them to face stretches when he may not be in the game, or even at his best.
His production is quite important to Michigan State's success, without question. But, Izzo seemingly always has one or two seniors, who are highly productive and provide steadying on court leadership. Valentine's impact in this area is impossible to quantify, but certainly means something. It's not as if he won't be around the program, but if Iowa's close, the Spartans will miss his playmaking and leadership to get them through a tough road contest.
Valentine's injury is not ideal, but it could be worse. He's fortunate to escape a major knee injury, although I don't know how close it was to a disaster, and he should return to full strength.
The Big Ten is tight at the top (Michigan State, Purdue and Maryland), and the Spartans want to avoid early losses in conference. Even though they'll have plenty of time to recover, Michigan State only plays Maryland and Purdue once each (a blessing and a curse).
Izzo's not pressing the panic button though, and no one should. The production, leadership and playmaking will be sorely missed, but the schedule isn't terribly daunting (other than Iowa on the road). Team-wise, it's an opportunity to work through adversity and become stronger. Something never lost on a Tom Izzo team. For some reason, overcoming this type of adversity always benefits Michigan State in March.