Is Michigan State a Lock to Win the Big Ten Championship?
by Rick Bouch Scores & Statson
Heading into the 2019-20 college basketball season, head coach Tom Izzo’s Michigan State squad was the predominant favorite among experts to win this year’s national title. With Naismith Award candidate Cassius Winston returning as well as F Xavier Tillman, F Nick Ward, and G Josh Langford; most college basketball previews forecast the Spartans winning their third national championship in 2020.
As we know from year’s past, the preseason favorite doesn’t always come out on top at season’s end. There are plenty of contenders this year. The Spartans, which started the season ranked No. 1 in the AP poll, dropped their season opener to now No. 9 Kentucky and currently sit at No. 3. Can the Spartans win it all?
The Case for the Spartans Other than Connecticut (2011 and 2014), every single national champion of the past decade has been a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. Michigan State is the favorite to win the Big Ten and will likely be a No. 1 or No. 2 seed when the tourney rolls around.
Winston, who averaged 18.8 points and 7.8 assists per game last season, returns as one of the top players in the country. He is surrounded by experience, especially the 6-foot-8-inch Tillman who is off to a strong start this year. Tillman is scoring 12.0 points and grabbing 9.5 rebounds a game thus far. Izzo’s bench is deep, experienced, and talented. Plus, Izzo has a knack for getting the best out of his team in March. Intertops gives Michigan State +750 odds to win the NCAA championship.
Blueblood Challengers The Spartans were challenged right off the bat losing their opener to Kentucky 69-62. The Wildcats always have a wealth of five-star talent and 2019-20 is no exception. It’s not one of head coach John Calipari’s sexiest teams, but the Wildcats can play. They are also young and that was evident in an upset loss to Evansville. Kentucky is still a favorite to win the very deep SEC and a +700 favorite to win it all.
The rest of the field is full of the usual suspects. Duke (+800) still has a lineup full of four- and five-star athletes led by
Kansas, North Carolina, and Louisville all are given +1200 odds to win the NCAA title. Louisville has a player of the year candidate in Jordan Nwora, last year’s ACC Most Improved Player. He averaged 17.0 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
The Tar Heels have Cole Anthony, son of former NBA star Greg Anthony, who has started the new season with a bang. Anthony is averaging over 22 points per game for No. 5 North Carolina.
Kansas, currently ranked fourth, has its own player of the year candidate in sophomore guard Devon Dotson (18.8 ppg). Udoka Azubuike (12.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.0 bpg) could be the nation’s best big man.
The Surprise Candidates The SEC is deep this season and the one team that should challenge Kentucky for the conference title is Florida. The Gators (+2500) aspirations for 2019-20 improved dramatically when graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. decided Gainesville would be where he plays his final season. Blackshear averaged over 18 points and eight rebounds in leading Virginia Tech to the NCAA tournament last season.
The other interesting longshot could be Memphis. The whole Penny Hardaway-James Wiseman controversy makes for a great story. The 7-foot Wiseman was the nation’s No. 1 recruit and chose Memphis because of Hardaway, who had coached Wiseman in high school. Wiseman was ruled ineligible for the season initially but he will miss 11 games before regaining his eligibility. With Wiseman, the Tigers (+3300) make for an interesting bet.
A native of Western Pennsylvania, Rick, a Generation X-er, who now lives just north of the Motor City, Detroit, Michigan. A former high school, college, and professional football player, Rick now spends his time as a high school coach and as a personal quarterback trainer. An all-state high school quarterback, he went on to become an Academic All-American at Division II Indiana University of PA. He later coached at his alma mater helping lead the program to the 1990 NCAA Division II national championship game. Rick has also served as a high school head coach and as an assistant in Pennsylvania, New York, and Michigan.
His passion for sports writing started when he was the sports editor for his high school newspaper and continued when he worked as a sportswriter for the Jamestown (New York) Post-Journal in the early 1990s. A true sports fanatic, Rick enjoys all things Pittsburgh: Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins. The Immaculate Reception, the 1979 We Are Family Pirates, and the ’91-’92 Penguins are among his favorites. After working as an educator and athletic director for several years, he again took up sports writing and has contributed to several websites and publications, including Coach & Player magazine, X & O Labs, American Football Monthly, and many others.
When not consumed with coaching, watching, thinking about, or writing about football and other seasonal sports, he finds himself working out like he was still in college and reading everything from military history to Brad Thor novels. Rick has also been chasing rock god stardom as a drummer who has played with bands that have opened for the likes of Fuel, Days of the New, and Alien Ant Farm. He continues to play with his church worship group. Most importantly, Rick is married to the love of his life, Lisa, and has two beautiful daughters.