Today, Michigan State big man Adreian Payne announced that he will be returning for his senior season in East Lansing. This was after weeks of pondering by Payne over his future. The NBA was calling with a potential first round pick, but Payne instead chose to stay in the college ranks for one more season.
Just one month ago, Michigan State fans had a potential scenario where they could lose Gary Harris and Payne to the NBA Draft, along with the Derrick Nix, who is graduating. Both Payne and Harris have now said no to the NBA, and this has college basketball observers wondering how good Michigan State can be next season?
There are some already prognosticating that Michigan State is a top-five team heading into next season.
The argument is: they return a dominant big man, and an elite scoring backcourt, with Harris and senior point guard Kieth Appling, as well as talented wings Denzel Valentine and Brandon Dawsen. That is a lot of talent for Tom Izzo to coach.
A top-five ranking would seem a bit premature at this point, however. Although they do return most of their contributors (all except Nix), Michigan State is not adding any playmakers to the fray, at least it would seem.
One should expect growth from Valentine and Harris, as they transition from freshmen to sophomores, as well as Appling and Payne heading into their senior years. However, there is no way to know how much Nix will be missed and if anyone can replace him. With no new players that would appear likely to make an impact, Michigan State would need their returning players to improve enough to make up for the loss of Nix in order to have a net gain. That is possible, but at this point, hard to predict.
Michigan State will be very good next year, likely near the top of the Big Ten again. But to place them as an elite team in the national picture seems a bit premature. It is big that Payne is back, but let’s all slow down on the Sparty hype just a bit.
You can (should!) follow Alex Dale on Twitter @alexdalecbb.