Michigan State preseason favorite for Big Ten title; parity remains in deep conference

Sophomore forward Miles Bridges (22) dunks the basketball during the game against Ferris State on Oct. 26, 2017, at the Breslin Center. The Spartans defeated the Bulldogs, 80-72.

Image By: The State News and Courtesty of Matt Schmucker

Most college basketball fans would agree that the Big Ten is one of the landmark conferences of the sport. Storied programs such as Michigan State and Indiana along with consistently good teams like Wisconsin, Purdue and Michigan all make the race for the conference title more competitive every season. However, last year marked the third straight year that a Big Ten team failed to reach the Final Four. Additionally, no Big Ten school was a top-three seed and no one in the conference even made it to the Elite Eight. Will this be the year that the Big Ten can break its Final Four drought and a team can cut down the nets in San Antonio? Who will replace departed stars like Melo Trimble, Caleb Swanigan and Nigel Hayes? Most importantly, which team will earn the right to call themselves champions of the Big Ten? All these questions and more will be answered this year in another exciting edition of Big Ten basketball.

After Purdue earned a hard-fought regular season title last year, this year is shaping up to be a bit different. The conference will likely be paced by the Spartans of Michigan State, who have reloaded after a middling season last year. They are likely poised to make a deep run in March. 22-year veteran coach Tom Izzo will have a much more experienced team this year, led by sophomore and National Player of the Year candidate Miles Bridges, who spurned a potential lottery selection in last year’s NBA draft to return to East Lansing. Izzo also gets back three former top-50 recruits who joined Bridges, as well as vaunted freshman forward Jaren Jackson. It all adds up to a pretty rosy outlook in 2017-’18 for the green and white.

While Michigan State looks to be the favorite coming into the season, there’s certainly no shortage of challengers who will make life difficult for the Spartans. Minnesota is bringing back four starters, including senior point guard Nate Mason from its team last year that earned a 5-seed in the NCAA tournament and Texas A&M transfer Davonte Fitzgerald, who should provide an added scoring punch off the bench. Purdue is getting back 7-foot senior center Isaac Haas and four players who shot 40 percent or better from behind the arc. Ethan Happ and D’Mitrik Trice return for a Wisconsin squad that has finished at least fourth in the Big Ten for each of the last 16 years. Seniors Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey opted to come back to Evanston to try to lead Northwestern to its second straight and second-ever March Madness berth. Moritz Wagner and Michigan will certainly be hungry for another Big Ten tournament title. And don’t sleep on Maryland, who despite losing Melo Trimble get back sharpshooting guard Kevin Huerter and talented forward Justin Jackson, who opened some eyes among NBA scouts last year as a freshman.

Elsewhere, there will be some new faces on the sidelines this year, as there are some first-year coaches and rebuilding projects to keep an eye on as well. Indiana managed to pry Archie Miller away from upstart Dayton to take over for the Hoosiers, as he will try to lead them back to glory. His hire has generated buzz in Bloomington, but he’ll have some work to do and his team will likely have to scrap for a spot in the Big Dance this year.

Ohio State tabbed former Butler head man Chris Holtmann to lead the Buckeyes. He’ll quickly begin rebuilding the program, but the results this year won’t be pretty. Illinois hired Brad Underwood away from Oklahoma State, and he’ll look to replicate the success he had after the Cowboys had one of the best offenses in the country last year. Fran McCaffery and Iowa are retooling after losing star guard Peter Jok, Tim Miles and Pat Chambers enter their sixth and seventh seasons at Nebraska and Penn State respectively, looking for a breakthrough year and progression is imminent in year two of Steve Pikiell’s Rutgers rebuild.

2017-’18 is shaping up to be yet another exciting year for Big Ten basketball. With high-flying teams looking to make a run at the Final Four, blossoming squads looking to finally put it all together and young upstarts readying for the future, there should be something for everyone to look forward to, no matter what team you’re a fan of.

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