Don’t feel bad for Tom Izzo. Sure, he lost two first-round picks in Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., but Michigan State is still the front-runner to win the Big Ten.
The Spartans lost 92-87 in Tuesday’s opener against No. 1 Kansas in Indianapolis, but that won’t be a huge blow to the national perception of the Big Ten.
The sour taste of last year’s dismal nonconference performance by the Big Ten isn’t gone, though. Remember, that led to only four Big Ten teams receiving NCAA tournament berths, the fewest since 2008. The league has some image repair work to do.
With Tuesday’s loss, Team Izzo likely will drop out of the top 10 next week. The No. 10 Spartans barely kept the Big Ten from failing to have a team ranked in the Associated Press preseason poll’s top 10 for the first time since 1978. Michigan and Purdue are near the bottom at No. 19 and No. 24 in the poll.
Michigan — a surprise national runner-up to Villanova last season after a fifth-place league finish — Indiana, Nebraska and Purdue could challenge the Spartans for the Big Ten title. The Hoosiers are poised to make a jump in Archie Miller’s second season, behind freshman guard Romeo Langford, the biggest name in the league next to Purdue junior guard Carsen Edwards and Wisconsin senior forward Ethan Happ.
Lurking just below those teams are Minnesota and Wisconsin, ready to shake things up if they can make big turnarounds from 15-win seasons. If either makes an early statement in November, they’ll crash the teams-to-beat discussion when league play begins in December.