As rough as the winter has been on the Spartans in the form of major injuries, the sun is far from setting on the team’s season goals. It’s felt a bit like they’re losing grip recently, yet MSU can hang right in the thick of the Big Ten race if they can take care of their immediate approaching business. If the Spartans can find W’s in these next three games against teams likely to end up in the bottom half of the final Conference standings, they will be in an outstanding position. Believe it or not there is a prop line at SportsBettingDime.com about this.
Adreian Payne’s return couldn’t have come soon enough for Spartan Nation. Payne got off to a pretty solid start as he found his form against Wisconsin in the 2nd Half. When Payne nailed a 3-pointer to tie the game with 10-seconds left, it looked like MSU might steal another late road win. Though the 2-point loss to their rival Badgers was a bit of let down after Travis Trice’s final half court launch at the buzzer just missed, the difference in the Spartans’ lineup with Payne’s return felt good right away.
The Spartans missed their versatile big man badly while he was out. More than anything from here, MSU needs him healthy for the March run. He’s missed so much time now that it should take the final weeks of these February dog days for Payne to tune up for his final March run. Tom Izzo said earlier this week that the big man’s return has more of an impact than you might initially think.
“It’s so hard to explain to you how these different guys being out, what it does to your whole team,” he began. Not only do lineups and play calling shift, the mechanics of the Offense also has to be adjusted. “All the sudden AP’s playing (again), so now the picks are different,” he used as an example. The timing of the offensive unit has definitely fluctuated with the various lineups. Payne’s return is hopefully the first of a string that will bring this team back to full power and ready to make a their big run.
Payne’s decision to return for a Senior year may have come as a slight surprise to some, but looks now like it was clearly the best professional choice for his pro career. “It was in their best interests to stay,” Izzo said about both of his Seniors that came back. While it appears so clear now, it’s an uncomfortable process for a rising Senior that now includes a worry if he returns to school, he might somehow look bad.
“If you’re a Junior and you’re on the bubble, you come out just because everybody’s talking that, if you go four years, you’ve got the plague or something,” Izzo described. “So many times now, you get kids and they want to be that finished product as a Freshmen or Sophomore, then move on to the NBA,” Associate Head Coach Dewayne Stephens added about the common mind set in today’s game.
With experience comes wisdom. Those who leave too early usually worry a Coach from the time the decision is made that they’ll end up with just a blip of a pro career. “Maybe they (four year players) won’t make as much money early but maybe they’ll make money longer, and maybe they’ll be able to take care of it,” Izzo pointed out. It would be pretty hard to argue with him at this point.
Hopefully part of the lasting legacy of Payne’s and Appling’s decision to return for a Senior year will be one of wisdom. It will hopefully trickle down to some of the current under classmen’s too, who’ve already decided to stick around when some around them probably wish they’d left early. It’s refreshing to see players begin to recognize the difference between being drafted in the NBA and having an NBA career. It’s proven quite the expensive lesson for more than few Spartans past.
Before the next NBA Draft, of course, there’s still plenty the Spartans will play for. Their immediate goal must be to stay tied at the top of the Big Ten race to set up a monster show down in Ann Arbor next Sunday with the currently co-leading Wolverines. “It seems like every night’s a big night in this league,” Izzo said about life in the league that’s been the sport’s best for the past half decade or so.
In order to set up perhaps the biggest game between the Blue and MSU in the last couple of basketball decades, the Spartans need to make the most of Payne’s return in the meantime. Players like Matt Costello that have come on in the Senior’s absence cannot let their games just shrivel up because AP is now back. Costello, for example, must continue to be assertive and develop his work around the rim. Others like Alvin Ellis that have shown a slight flash here and there should continue to look for any opportunity to make a couple plays when opportunity might knock.
As this team gets healthier with Appling and Dawson hopefully set to return before the Michigan game, the Spartans will have a chance to again become the deepest top-tier team in the country. That won’t happen unless players who saw more playing time during this period of injury keep their games sharp and ready.
If the Spartans can find a way to completely survive this run of injuries through the grind of February, there may be little else that can stop them from accomplishing the lofty goals they set out last spring. Some say that which does not kill you can only make you stronger. While it’s easy to point out the upside of that equation, you cannot completely dismiss the downside. The Spartans may be just one more significant injury away from being essentially “done” for the year’s biggest prizes. But if they can get healthier within this mini-stretch and avoid stubbing their toe along the way, oh what a final Sunday of February we’ll have to kick of the season’s final stretch.
The Spot Up 3: A Set of Quick Ones to Dribble Around Your Basketball Mind
- It’s been rumored for a few years now that the future of the Big Dance lies in May. The prospect of starting the NCAA Tournament the week after the Masters should not come as a surprise to the serious College Hoops fan, and would probably only help the relatively sliding interest in the sport overall.
- The challenge for early entries to the NBA Draft is the age old adage of supply and demand. Too often that relationship is misunderstood by ambitious underclassmen. When in doubt, return for another season, kids. You’ll almost always make more money in the end spending an extra year in school.
- The Badgers have been the Spartans biggest basketball rival throughout the Tom Izzo era. You’d have to take a fresh look at it now, however, and say that last year the Wolverines transitioned into that top slot, at least for now. Based on Saturday’s action, it doesn’t look like Wisconsin likes the idea that they’re no longer the Spartans’ marquee matchup.
Let me hear all about it inside the Phalanx Forum and @JPSpartan