College Basketball Preview: Michigan State Is the Team to Beat in the Big Ten
Team to Beat: Michigan State Spartans
Last year was a challenging one for head coach Tom Izzo, whose young Spartans were mired in injuries and growing pains most of last season and failed to fulfill the potential of its talented roster. The Spartans still managed to make the NCAA Tournament, but at 19-14, they were stuck on the bubble for most of the year after getting beat up by a non-conference schedule so tough that Izzo apologized to his team for setting such a difficult path.
Izzo seemingly has little to apologize for to anyone in East Lansing this season. With a trying year now in the past, last year's young team is suddenly this year's experienced team, and they are loaded with talent. When all is said and done for the 2017-18 season, Michigan State could very well have another Final Four under its belt and two star players destined for the NBA Draft lottery.
Miles Bridges, perhaps the best returning player in all college basketball, should garner plenty of mentions in player of the year conversations this season. Bridges, who was expected to be a one-and-done NBA prospect, is back for his sophomore season after averaging 16.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game in his freshman campaign.
While Bridges may have been a bit lacking in support last season, that should be far from the case this year, as he's joined by Jaren Jackson, Jr., a 6'11" freshman who seems destined to be a lottery pick at some point. Jackson will be joined down low by Nick Ward, who greatly exceeded expectations last year to emerge as a formidable post presence, and Gavin Schilling, who missed last year due to injury. Add in senior point guard Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn, Jr., and the Spartans seem to have all the pieces necessary to compete for a national title this season.