The unproven is what intrigues us in college basketball these days. The top storylines in the fall will be every single movement Andrew Wiggins makes and how John Calipari is going to handle all of his freshmen.
The one team that we think we know in the preseason top five is Michigan State. But if the Spartans and their seniors—Adreian Payne and Keith Appling—are what they've been in the past, then they're just going to continue to be a really good team.
Luckily for Tom Izzo's squad, there is still some unknown even though they return four starters and the rest of the rotation.
And that unknown is Payne.
Here's what we do know. We know that Payne is an unbelievable athlete. We know he has great size and a 7'1" wingspan. We know that he can shoot, rebound and block shots.
What we don't know is whether he can play the role of a star. That's what Payne has left to prove. That's what could either give the Spartans a great shot to get to the Final Four and have a chance at a national title or just be a really nice team.
Payne decided to come back to school to be the former, because he could have been drafted in the first round. He had been identified already as a player with potential and all the measurables that NBA teams like.
But Payne has the ability to be so much more if he can embrace it. You watch Payne and you expect for him to be more than a guy who averages 10.5 points per game and 7.6 rebounds.
Watch the video below of Payne. In one sequence, he blocks a shot and then hits a trailer jumper on the other end.
These glimpses of stardom were there all season. But the difference between being good and dominant are turning those glimpses into long stretches.
We saw some of that late in the season. Over the final 11 games, Payne averaged 13.3 points and 9.5 rebounds. Those numbers are good, but they could be even better.
- At the rim: 80 percent
- Two-point jumpers: 44 percent
- Three-pointers: 38.1 percent
- Free throws: 84.8 percent
Those are the splits of a star player, but he was not as assertive as a star player needs to be.
During those final 11 games, Payne had a 15-rebound night, a 12-rebound night, an 11-rebound night and two games with 10 boards apiece. He also had two games where he had only four rebounds.
Against Memphis, he had five blocks. In the six games before that, he had four blocks total.
Payne is an elite rebounder when he's focused on rebounding. He's a good shot-blocker when he's trying to block shots. He's a good scorer when he's trying to score. He's capable of being all three all the time. It's a mentality.
And that's why it was good to see him come back to school. That's why it's good to see that he's trying out for USA Basketball to play in the World University Games.
Payne was already good. He came back to school to be great.
"I think they all realize that Adreian Payne has taken another big step," Izzo told 7&4 Sports recently.
Consider me intrigued.
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