Not much ever seems to change in East Lansing.
It is as if you can always count on the Michigan State Spartans being one of the teams to beat in college basketball.
A year ago, the Spartans were 29-8 overall and tied for first in the Big Ten. They knocked off the Ohio State Buckeyes in the championship game of the conference tournament and were within striking distance of the Final Four before the Louisville Cardinals ended the magical run with a 57-44 win in the Sweet 16.
Still, the season the Spartans had a year ago is a reminder to all of us that as long as Tom Izzo is running the show in East Lansing, his teams are going to be contenders.
This year should be no different. Never mind that star Draymond Green, who poured in 16.2 points per outing last season, has taken his talents to the NBA.
The Spartans will still have a strong presence in the paint, in part because Adreian Payne seems poised to showcase his skills. The talented junior center averaged 7.0 points and 4.2 rebounds per outing last season, but expect those numbers to rise significantly this year.
Payne has improved his shooting touch and has made strides in his play in the post, and both improvements should be noticeable when he takes the floor this year. Don’t be surprised if he becomes more of a threat to knock down shots from beyond the arc on occasion either.
He shot a little better than 56 percent from the field and scored in double figures nine times. Payne also blocked 39 shots and his presence as a defender in the paint will be key to the Spartans’ success.
If Michigan State is going to make a run this year, Payne will play a big part in it.
It’s hard to exceed expectations in a place like East Lansing, and that is a credit to the job Izzo has done in building up one of the most consistent and successful programs in the nation.
As I said earlier, not much seems to have changed in East Lansing this year and don’t be surprised if the Spartans are headed South in April for a trip to the Final Four in Atlanta.
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