Record: 28-3 (16-2 in Big Ten)
Tournament Seed: 1
First Round Opponent: Winner of #12 Iowa vs. #5 Michigan
No team will start the Big Ten Tournament hotter than the Michigan State Spartans. After an early January loss to in-state rival Michigan, Tom Izzo’s squad has not looked back. The Spartans, 2018 B1G regular season champs, have won 12 straight games. This comes after an already impressive resume, in which they have only lost three times on the season, to #5 Duke, to # 13 Ohio State, and to #15 Michigan. Besides the three losses to top 15 teams, MSU has dominated their inferior opponents, while showing the ability to win in close games against top ranked talent. Among their most impressive victories are and 18 point win against UNC in November and a tightly contested thriller against Purdue. Simply put, Sparty is not only the clear favorite to cut the nets down in MSG, but is also a favorite to win it all in the big dance next month. However, the season has had many hitches along the way.
In late January a sexual abuse scandal, which implicated coach Tom Izzo among many others at the University, shook East Lansing to its core. Many administration members, including AD Mark Hollis, have resigned. Later in February, an FBI probe linked current Spartan players to cash payments made by agents and coaches in the recruitment process. Despite the tumultuous month, the MSU basketball team has blocked out the noise. Will they continue to do so on a national stage?
Players to Watch:
Jalen Jackson Jr. has been unbelievably good. The freshman big man averaged 11.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.3 blocks per game, in a season that would earn him both B1G Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards. Even on a team with Miles Bridges, a surefire early NBA draft pick, Jackson might just be the team MVP, doing it all for the Spartans and scoring and playing defense from anywhere on the court. Nick Ward has also turned in a fantastic season. A third-team all Big Ten honoree, Ward has been a steady presence for the Spartans, providing 13 points and 7.5 rebounds a game, while teaming up with Jackson Jr. to make a downright scary frontcourt combo. Cassius Winston, another all B1G third-teamer, could be the championship difference maker. A lethal shooter, Winston has averaged 12.5 points and 7 assists per game, shooting 56.5% from behind the arc (best in the B1G). In his last four games, the red-hot Winston has shot over 78% for three.
Miles Bridges is the Spartan’s best player. He is also their coldest player. In the past month, Bridges has scored more than 10 points or less in four games. Over the past two weeks, he is averaging just 10.5 points. However, Bridges was also implicated in the FBI probe, with allegations of him accepting payment to play for the Spartans. If Bridges can overcome the outside distractions and play his best basketball on the biggest stage in the world, the Spartans will not lose in the B1G. They have been dominant without Bridges at his best thus far, so having their superstar at his best will elevate Michigan State to the ranks of the true championship favorites.
MSU will win the tournament. As long as they take care of business against the Michigan Wolverines, their probable semi final opponent, Sparty will party on to the NCAA Tournament as double B1G champions. The Wolverines have had the Spartans’ number as of late, winning their past two matchups by a combined total of 39. However, Michigan State has been absolutely dominant in 2018 and is on an incredible 12-game roll. It will be extremely difficult for any B1G team to beat the Spartans at Madison Square Garden. They are the #1 seed for a reason.