Special to ZAGSBLOG
NEW YORK — Michigan State is the No. 1 team in the country, and proved why yet again on Friday night with a dominating 96-77 win over Virginia Tech in the semis of the Coaches vs Cancer Classic at the Barclays Center.
Yet, you wouldn’t know it if you only paid attention to the coverage of the major media outlets.
That’s because the so-called freshman sensations are the hot topic in the NCAA this season. Jabari Parker of Duke, Andrew Wiggins of Kansas, Julius Randle of Kentucky and Aaron Gordon of Arizona are the names you constantly hear trumped on TV and written about in print. They are all the rage. And the heightened coverage they are getting is starting to irk the top-ranked Spartans a little bit.
“Yeah it pisses us off,” senior forward Adreian Payne told SNY.tv exclusively after he dropped a career-best 29 points on 10-for-15 shooting and added 10 rebounds in the win. “But we just use it for motivation. Aint nothing else we can do about it.”
He added that they’re all “great players” and are “living up to the hype,” but Payne is clearly a star in his own right. The 6-10 forward displayed that quite clearly on Friday night. At times he looked like a man amongst boys in the paint, and he also stepped out to show his range, hitting 4-of-6 from downtown.
Last week at the Champions Classic in Chicago, Payne went for 15 points and showed some nifty post moves as then-No. 2 Michigan State toppled Randle and then-No. 1 Kentucky, 78-74.
And Payne is not alone. Sophomore shooting guard Gary Harris is another stud for the Spartans. Harris was able to overcome an uncharacteristically cold shooting night (6-for-19), as he still contributed 19 points in the win.
While the 6-4 Harris agreed that the freshman trio are “well deserving” of the attention and are having “great years,” he can’t help but take notice of the overwhelming hype surrounding them.
“You gotta pay attention,” Harris said. “All you do is see it on ESPN.”
While it’s likely that Parker, Wiggins, and Randle may go as the top three picks (in some order) in next year’s NBA draft— in some order — Harris and Payne will not be far behind. DraftExpress.com has Harris as the No. 12 pick and Payne as No. 16.
“Oh, they’re going to be first-rounders,” Magic Johnson told SNY.tv in Chicago. “Payne, he showed everybody….what he’s made of, inside, outside [against Kentucky]. Gary Harris is the best shooting two guard in the country.”
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo would not concede that the comparative lack of attention his team is receiving from the media bothers him, but he did say that the recent trend of freshman getting all the hype and publicity “disappoints” him.
“I’m not sure it’s great for college basketball,” Izzo said. “I have no problem with it, I think guys deserve what they get, but we’re making it so crazy now.”
Izzo intimated that his team may seem to be a little boring to the media in comparison to the freshman phenoms who dominate the coverage. In a day and age where we are all looking for the next big thing, the Spartans don’t start any first-year players. Instead, they tout an experienced roster that has grown together over the years.
“We’re kind of the nice team that’s gotten better each year, with a couple players that have gotten better each year,” Izzo said. “The way it’s supposed to work.
“When you start looking, 72 percent of our baskets are from assists,” Izzo continued. “That shows you how unselfish and the kind of guys I got. And that’s because they did it the way it’s supposed to be.”
While Izzo noted that he has no “ill feelings for the freshman,” he clearly lamented the changing landscape of the NCAA and ominously warned against what could become of the NCAA if the trend continues.
“I think if we don’t watch it, it’s going to send a bad message,” Izzo said. “From the media, from the coaches, and from everybody. In my humble opinion.”
The Spartans will face off against Oklahoma in the tournament’s championship game Saturday night. Tip off is scheduled for 9:30 pm.