The Associated Press believes the Michigan State Spartans have a great chance of becoming the first Big 10 basketball to win the Division I championship since, well, Michigan State in 2000. The Spartans overwhelmingly earned the top spot in AP's preseason college basketball top 25, receiving 60 of 65 first place votes. It's the first time Michigan State's ever been ranked No. 1 in a preseason AP poll, which is surprising given the program's consistent greatness.
The Big 10 is generally one of the country's most competitive conferences, but a national title has remained elusive. Regardless, preseason predictions have pegged the Spartans, led by longtime coach Tom Izzo and senior point guard Cassius Winston, as the team to beat. It's not a surprise — Michigan State went to the Final Four last season and returns Winston, who projects to be one of the best players in the country once again, as well as two other starters in Xavier Tillman and Aaron Henry. They'll also be getting back Winston's classmate and NBA prospect Joshua Langford, who missed most of last season with a foot injury.
There's still a long way to go, of course, and Michigan State will have plenty of competition. Kentucky and Kansas split the remaining five votes and are ranked No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. Duke finds itself the nation's fourth-ranked team to begin the year, but the Blue Devils will be dealing with a lot of turnover. Other teams in the top 10, such as Florida and Michigan State's Big 10 competitor Maryland, also looked poised to go deep into March.
Virginia, the defending champion, will enter the year as the No. 11 ranked team, though it did lose its three star players — De'Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome, and Kyle Guy — to the NBA draft this offseason. See the full rankings here. Tim O'Donnell