While the basketball news in Kentucky has been painfully, painfully slow today, other schools have enjoyed the little ping of excitement that comes with tonight’s midnight deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NBA Draft. Two of them are of special interest to Kentucky fans- the reports that Michigan State forward Adriean Payne and Baylor center Isaiah Austin will return to school for another year of collegiate play. Michigan State and Baylor, you may recall, are two of the marquee headlines in Kentucky’s non-conference schedule next season.
The Cats will first face Michigan State on November 12th, in Chicago’s United Center (hey-o!) for the third and final year of the State Farm Champion’s Classic series. Payne averaged 10.5 ppg and 7.6 rpg on MSU’s Sweet 16 team; his return catapults MSU into early talk as a Final Four team. Projected as a late first rounder/early second rounder in the draft, Payne will instead head back to Lansing to join a loaded front court that includes junior forward Branden Dawson as well as talented incoming freshmen Gavin Schilling and Alvin Ellis. Combined with MSU’s experienced guards (Keith Appling, Gary Harris, and Denzel Valentine)- it’s easy to see why CBS Sports tabbed them the number two team in their “Way-Too-Early preseason rankings for 2013-14.” After Kentucky, of course.
Those rec specs, tho
Baylor, meanwhile, will be the Cats’ opponent in a December double-header featuring both the men’s and women’s teams squaring off in Cowboy Stadium. A rising sophomore, Austin averaged 13.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg, and 1.7 bpg for the NIT Champions (laugh so you don’t cry), and was seen by many as on the cusp of being a lottery pick in this year’s draft. With Austin returning alongside redshirt senior Cory Jefferson, Baylor vaults to the top of the Big 12 along with Oklahoma State and Kansas. Against Kentucky in the December 1st game in Rupp last season, Austin had 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks; his Kentucky counterparts, Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein had combined efforts of 14 points, 23 rebounds (okay, 16 of those were from Nerlens, but still), and three blocks. The WCS-Austin rematch will be crucial in the outcome of the big game.
Revenge Tour 2013 is shaping up to have some great villains. It’ll just be that much sweeter to beat them.