Can Appling, Michigan State overcome tough schedule to win title?
Some of the names and faces have changed, but the Big Ten is again one of the most intriguing league races.
Michigan State and Michigan are undefeated in league play, but teams like Iowa and Wisconsin lurk on the outside. And despite recent struggles, Ohio State isn’t going to be an easy out for the rest of the regular season.
The schedules are unbalanced, each team has its strengths and weaknesses and all are well-coached. But which team will finish the regular season on top? Our college basketball staff debates.
Weekly Tipoff: Who is your pick to win the Big Ten regular-season title?
Mitch Light: Iowa
Michigan State might be the obvious pick, but I’m going with Iowa. I’ve been on the Hawkeyes’ bandwagon since last season, when they narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament despite going 9–9 — with six of the losses coming by four points or less — in the nation’s most difficult conference. With every key player back, it’s no surprise that Fran McCaffery has his team in the hunt for a league title. Iowa might lack the star power of some of the elite teams in the Big Ten, but no program features more quality depth. McCaffery can go 10 deep and has the ability to mix and match lineups to accentuate his team’s positives. Taking a quick look at the advanced stats, there isn’t one thing that this team does not do well. The Hawkeyes are efficient offensively — and aren’t too reliant on the 3-pointer — and outstanding on the defensive end while playing at one of the fastest tempos in the country.
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Braden Gall: Michigan State
After watching Wisconsin and Ohio State go a combined 0-5 since starting 16-0 and 15-0 respectively, the answer pretty clearly has to Michigan State. When healthy — a major ongoing concern for Tom Izzo this season — this team is as good as any in the nation. Izzo has veteran leadership, experience and talent in the form of arguably the best backcourt in the nation (Keith Appling, Gary Harris). He has a dominate, athletic, versatile big mane in Adreian Payne. And he has a roster of bouncy supporting players like Branden Dawson, Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice. When fully healthy, the Spartans can beat anyone in the nation and should be considered the Big Ten favorite — and near-lock for the Final Four.
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David Fox: Michigan State
I’m picking the Spartans, though it’s a tough call over Wisconsin. Consider that Tom Izzo hasn’t had a fully healthy roster this season and still started 17–1. Gary Harris and Adreian Payne have both been hurt. So has Branden Dawson. That said, Keith Appling is one of the most improved players in the Big Ten, and the Spartans have had the depth in Denzel Valentine, Travis Trice and Kenny Kaminksi to weather the injuries so far. The road will be tough — quite literally, with trips to Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and Ohio State — but Michigan State can navigate it.