When Michigan State lost to Connecticut in the Elite 8 on March 30th, a streak was snapped in which every player who played four years for head coach Tom Izzo in East Lansing had made it to a Final Four. The Spartans' Keith Appling and Adreian Payne were the unlucky duo that broke the string.
Appling suffered through much of his senior season with a wrist injury that hampered his shooting stroke, and was a non-factor offensively against the Huskies. Payne, however, used his final collegiate season to show off a versatile, well-rounded offensive game, which coupled with his rebounding and defense, has him rising up draft boards. The Dayton, Ohio product put together a number of big-time performances in his career for the Spartans, but saved his most memorable for his final trip to the Big Dance.
Fourth-seeded Michigan State never figured to get too big of a scare from Delaware in their first game of the NCAA tournament. The Spartans also didn't expect the career game Payne logged against the Fightin' Blue Hens. Showcasing an ability to score inside and out, and going a perfect 17-17 from the foul line, Payne scored a career-high 41 points in a 93-78 victory.
The 6'10" senior finished 10-15 from the floor, including 4-5 from beyond the arc, adding eight rebounds and a blocked shot in his 24 minutes on the floor.
Payne's size, athleticism, and well-rounded offensive skillset helps him project as a quintessential stretch four in the NBA, able to shoot from the outside, play with his back to the basket, and deliver tough-nosed defense and rebounding. Most mock drafts place him somewhere in the late lottery or teens, with the fact that he stayed all four years in college dragging down his stock slightly. On Thursday, some NBA team is going to get a steal when they call Payne's name.