The good news for Big Ten basketball fans and their hopes of a national championship: Michigan State is awesome. Bad news: the rest of the conference is definitely not.
Can you remember what you were doing in the year 2000? There was no Facebook or Twitter then. Shoot, most people didn’t even have cell phones.
Fans of the Big Ten likely remember 2000 well as that’s the last time a school from the conference won an NCAA basketball national championship. Michigan State, led by the “Flintstones,” beat Billy Donovan’s Florida team 89-76 in the RCA Dome in Indianapolis to give Tom Izzo his first national title.
That’s it for the Big Ten this century. A handful of schools have made it back to the title game since. Indiana lost by 12 to Maryland in 2002. Illinois was beaten by North Carolina, 75-70, in 2005. Ohio State, led by Greg Oden and Mike Conley, lost to Florida in 2007 as the Gators repeated – the last school to do so. Izzo’s Spartans got back in 2009 but were beaten easily by North Carolina in Detroit. In 2013, Michigan fell to Louisville, although that title could be wiped out for that scandal-ridden school. Wisconsin upset unbeaten Kentucky on the way to the 2015 final, only to lose to Duke.
Since 2000, every major conference has won at least one national championship (where school was located when won) except the Big Ten and Pac-12. The ACC has seven. The Big East five. The SEC three. The Big 12 one. Shoot, even the mid-major American Athletic Conference has one.
I’m here to guarantee that in the Big Ten, it’s Michigan State or bust to cut down the nets on April 2 at the Alamodome in San Antonio. These Spartans could be Izzo’s team most talented ever, at least if you go by NBA potential, and are +525 second-favorites at 5Dimes to win it all.
Sophomore forward Miles Bridges, who stunned many by returning to East Lansing instead of declaring for the draft, is a National Player of the Year candidate and a lock Top-10 pick in the 2018 draft. Jaren Jackson Jr. also is going in the 2018 lottery and might win Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. Sophomores Nick Ward and Joshua Langford were highly-touted recruits as well and should have NBA futures. Michigan State is No. 2 nationally the KenPom.com ratings.
The Spartans’ only loss was in the second game of the season to mega-talented Duke, and MSU has quality wins over UConn, North Carolina and Notre Dame. Izzo’s club could well be favored in every single Big Ten game – and therein lies the problem: the Big Ten blows this year.
Indiana recently was blown out by 20 at home by Fort Wayne and is rebuilding under first-year coach Archie Miller. Wisconsin hasn’t missed the NCAA Tournament since 1998 and has won at least two games in each of the past three Big Dances but doesn’t look like a tournament team thus far partly due to injuries to guards D'Mitrik Trice (out indefinitely) and Kobe King (out for season). The Badgers still don’t have a quality win and nearly lost at home to Western Kentucky on Dec. 13.
Plenty of Big Ten teams have what appear to be nice records but they haven’t beaten anyone. Ohio State has lost to unranked Butler and Clemson. Michigan to LSU and blown out at North Carolina. Maryland to an average Syracuse squad and St. Bonaventure. Northwestern was hyped entering the year off its first-ever NCAA tournament berth but has losses to the likes of Texas Tech (by 36!) and Georgia Tech.
The only Big Ten team other than Michigan State currently ranked in the Top 25 is Purdue, but it has losses to Tennessee and Western Kentucky. To be fair, Purdue has beaten Arizona, Louisville, Maryland, Northwestern, Butler and Marquette and is No. 6 at KenPom.com. The Boilers are +5200 on the NCAA basketball futures to win it all.
Purdue’s a nice team, but it’s Sparty or nothing for the Big Ten.