Even though Michigan State has won 10 of its last 11 games and climbed into a first-place tie with Indiana atop the Big Ten standings, senior center Derrick Nix still doesn't think the Spartans are getting the attention they've earned.
Nix popped off on the subject in a conversation with Michigan State beat reporters on Thursday evening, admitting he still feels the Spartans have something to prove because Michigan and Indiana are receiving more respect. Specifically, Nix noted stars from the Wolverines and Hoosiers are ranked higher on NBA Draft boards and are receiving more recognition in the national player of the year race.
"I just watch a lot of basketball and a lot of guys get credit that I don’t think (deserve) it," Nix told reporters in East Lansing. "I think there’s a lot of overrated players out there. Like me and (Adreian) Payne, I think there’s a lot of underrated players. I just feel that way.
"I don’t know if it’s us as players, I don’t know if it’s Michigan State, I don’t know what it is. I just feel like none of us get credit. (Indiana’s Victor) Oladipo is no different than (Branden) Dawson. Dawson’s not on the draft board, Oladipo is in the top 15.
"Payne is 6-10, can do everything that (Cody) Zeller can do. He’s not on the draft board, Zeller is in the top 5. I mean, I can do everything Reggie Johnson from Miami can do. He’s on draft boards, I’m not. Keith (Appling) can do everything Trey Burke can do. Trey Burke’s in the top 5, Keith’s not. Gary (Harris) can do everything that (Shabazz) Muhammad from UCLA can do. He’s on draft boards, Gary’s not. We’re just, we’re underdogs."
Although Michigan State has traditionally received plenty of well-deserved respect as a result of Tom Izzo's six Final Fours, Nix has a strong case that this year's team has uncharacteristically flown under the radar. Whereas Indiana began the year atop the preseason polls and Michigan has been a national media darling, the Spartans were cast aside a bit as a result of early losses to UConn and Miami, both of which look much more excusable now than two months ago.
On the other hand, it's unlikely any NBA teams will be hiring Nix to do player evaluations based on his above comments.
Keith Appling is having a terrific season, but he doesn't shoot as consistently as Burke from the perimeter, nor does he have anywhere near the assist-to-turnover ratio Burke does. Adreian Payne has NBA talent and size, but he doesn't run the floor the way Cody Zeller does, nor does he produce anywhere near as consistently as Zeller. And Branden Dawson has recovered from a torn ACL quicker than anyone could have expected this season, but he has yet to prove he has the same relentless motor that makes Oladipo one of the Big Ten's best.
The other problem with Nix's comments is word of them is sure to get back to Ann Arbor and Bloomington.
Nix's own teammates probably appreciate that he has their back, but the players from Indiana and Michigan will no doubt use his words as motivation. We'll find out Feb. 19 in East Lansing and March 2 in Ann Arbor whether the Hoosiers and Wolverines can prove Nix wrong or not.
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