Adreian Payne is one of the biggest stars set to participate in the 2014 NCAA tournament. The Michigan State senior just capped off his finest season yet and is hoping to parlay that into a deep run during March Madness.
His No. 4 seeded Spartans are heating up at the right time, having won three conference tournament games in a row to claim an improbable Big Ten Championship. They are staring down a matchup with No. 13 seed Delaware in the round of 64.
It would be a grave mistake to underestimate the Fightin’ Blue Hens, but Payne and his MSU teammates have what it takes to easily battle past this squad and into the third round.
Payne plays some of his best basketball when the spotlight burns brightest, which was evidenced during the Big Ten tourney.
The big man put together back-to-back 18-point games in the semifinals and the finals, including a 70 percent shooting performance with four rebounds in just 17 minutes against Wisconsin and a 46.2 percent shooting, nine-rebound display in 29 minutes vs. the Wolverines to claim the conference title.
To make matters worse for Delaware, Payne suggested that his team wasn’t even playing its best basketball when it upset the Wolverines this past Sunday, which were a potential No. 1 seed in March Madness going into the game, as per MSUSpartans.com:
We're just scratching the surface. We didn't play at a high level before just because we haven't had time for everyone to play together for a long period of time. This tournament has been great because we've been able to play with each other more and we're starting to look better.
The numbers he averaged in those final two games are an improvement over the 15.8 points and 7.4 rebounds Payne cobbled together during an up-and-down 26-8 regular season for MSU.
The 6’10”, 245-pound forward’s defense was a major reason why the Spartans have been able to topple elite opponents such as Kentucky, Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan. Although he averaged just 0.9 blocks per game in 2013-14, Payne is capable of protecting the rim at a high level—an invaluable skill to have this time of year.
While Payne missed seven conference games due to a troublesome foot injury, the Dayton, Ohio native has clearly rounded back into form in time to help the Spartans try to best their Sweet 16 appearance in last year’s tourney.
ESPN’s Jeff Goodman explained why the injury might have been a blessing for MSU’s tournament hopes:
Payne has not been past the Sweet 16 during his tenure with the program and has one last chance to keep head coach Tom Izzo’s amazing streak alive. Since taking over on the sidelines in East Lansing back in 1995, Izzo has never failed to lead one of his four-year players to the Final Four.
Considering Michigan State’s last Final Four appearance came during the 2010 tourney, right before Payne and fellow senior star Keith Appling arrived on campus, there is extra motivation to make a run this year.
Don’t be surprised if Payne and Co. come out of the gate in a hurry, looking to quickly dispatch Delaware and avoid any chance of an upset. The Fightin’ Blue Hens are dangerous and letting them linger could result in Michigan State being on the wrong side of a Cinderella performance.
Expect Payne to lead the defensive charge, locking down the paint for the Spartans. On the other end, the sweet-shooting center will keep Delaware’s “D” off balance, as his range and toughness allow him to bang inside or step out to make three-pointers.
There is simply no answer for that wide variety of skill on the Hens roster, so look for Payne to have one of his finest performances of the tournament in this contest.
Adreian Payne’s predicted Round 2 stat line: 27 points, nine rebounds, two blocks, two assists, one steal and three turnovers.
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