Michigan State is the best team in the Big Ten right now. Yes, I said it and I believe it. Okay I get it, it may be an obvious statement because they are technically the best team in the conference due to their conference record, but I’m talking about overall best.
It’s a bold statement considering the teams that are in the conference, like Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State and Minnesota. The Spartans (17-3, 6-1) are sitting atop the conference with everyone chasing them, a place that they have been familiar with for three of the past four seasons and much of the last 18 seasons under head coach Tom Izzo.
Michigan State has won at least a share of the Big Ten title seven times under Izzo, a place that has become all too common for Spartan teams under the famed head coach.
The fact that they are currently No. 13 in the country (where they began the season) and 17-3 overall, with just one conference loss almost at the midway point of the Big Ten season, is incredible considering what they lost from last year and where people thought they would be at this point.
No one would have expected Michigan State, who lost Draymond Green, Brandon Wood and Austin Thorton from a season ago, to be in this position right now. That’s the beauty of Izzo-coached teams– even when others think they have nothing to offer, they always prove people wrong.
There is no doubt that each year, the Spartans have been severely overlooked by many. Time and time again, however, the Spartans continue to surprise people, including this season.
The 2012-13 season was supposed to be a rebuilding season with Branden Dawson coming off a severe knee injury, having to rehab all off-season instead of perfect his game, losing the best leader since Mateen Cleaves in Draymond Green and no one knew how Keith Appling would perform as the team’s leader and point guard.
Well, it turns out Dawson is even more dominant than he was the year before, only needing to perfect his jump shot, as he averages 10.5 points and 6.6 rebounds a game. The loss of Green has hurt them a bit, but it turns out they have more than one leader as Dawson, Adriean Payne, Derrick Nix and Keith Appling have all carried that load. As for Appling’s offense, he has improved in basically every category from a year ago, leading the team in points(14.1) and assists(4.3).
Appling is making a case for Big Ten Play of the Year. Other positives that take this team from an average one to a serious contender are the play of Payne and Nix in the post to go along with the solid play of freshman standout Gary Harris. Payne and Nix together average 18.1 points and 13.7 rebounds per game, while Harris averages 12.3 points and shoots a solid 45 percent from the field and 38 percent from three-point range.
There’s no telling where this team will end up come March, but for right now, they are the best team in the Big Ten.