Column: MSU basketball has already proven they are legit title contenders
As you might of already heard, expectations are pretty high for the MSU men's basketball team. The Spartans entered the season as the No. 2 ranked team in the country in the Associated Press preseason poll, and many media outlets have them pegged to win the National Championship.
I know what you may be thinking, what's the big deal? Don't worry, you're right, the Spartans being widely-regarded as a top team in college basketball should come to no one's surprise.
Under head coach Tom Izzo, the Spartans have earned recognition as one of the elite programs in the nation year in and year out. Along with the seven final fours — tied with North Carolina's Roy Williams for the most appearances in the last 20 years — the Hall of Fame coach hasn't had a losing season at MSU in his 21 seasons as head coach.
I'd say the Hall of Fame nod was well-deserved.
But this season is different. It's different from the trial and error-filled expedition last season that featured talented, eager freshmen. It's even different from the hopeful, yet ultimately disappointing season two years ago, that featured primed, confident seniors.
I'm honored to have the privilege to cover this team in just my first semester with The State News. I started out here as an intern on the sports desk, and after a short hiatus I'm thankful to be back, mainly because of how special this team could be.
The Spartans have all the ingredients of a championship team. Superstar player? Check. Backcourt and wing depth? Check. Size in the front court? Check.
The Spartans recently won the Victory Bracket championship in the PK80 Invitational after defeating North Carolina in the title game this past Sunday, with their best player, Miles Bridges, sitting out the first game of the tournament against Stony Brook with an ankle injury, and spending the next two games in foul trouble.
The squad was able to withstand the limited availability of their stand-out forward during the tournament, however, due to career-best scoring performances by sophomores Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford against Connecticut and North Carolina.
When you take into consideration the team they were playing against — the reigning National Champion Tar Heels, a team that Izzo hasn't beaten since UNC head coach Roy Williams took over at the helm 14 years ago; The win over the Tar Heels was a season defining moment for the team, albeit being just six games into the season. MSU held UNC to their worst shooting performance in school history at just 25 percent.
The Spartans lost to every blue-blood program they played against last year, including losses against Kentucky, Duke and Kansas. The victory over North Carolina was essentially the biggest win of the majority of the players on the team's careers thus far.
The Spartans are without a doubt the class of the Big Ten, and if the team is able to get a win over No. 5 Notre Dame — their last remaining non-conference test this season — this Thursday at the Breslin Center, the squad should be in good, championship-level condition the rest of the way.