The college basketball season officially came to a close last week when Villanova routed the Michigan Wolverines and claimed their second National Championship in the last three years.
Within 24 hours of the 2017-18 season’s final buzzer, the focus turned to next season with the traditional way-too-early rankings hitting the web. As college basketball fans know by now, these rankings have become an annual tradition to begin the hype for some teams that return plenty of talent and welcome in a highly regarded recruiting class.
The Spartans have become a regular in these types of rankings, and this year appears to be no different with multiple news sources having Michigan State crack their early rankings. Some possibly having the Spartans a little too high in my opinion when you factor in the losses of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., and possibly Nick Ward.
These rankings don’t carry much weight — look at what the Wolverines just did despite not receiving much love in these early rankings last spring — but hey, it’s still fun to take a look. Especially since we won’t have a whole lot of college basketball news for the next six months.
Below I compiled a list of a few big media sources that have released their early rankings and where they have the Spartans ranked ahead of next year. Read on to see where the so-called experts have Michigan State, and I’ll also dish out my thoughts on next year’s green-and-white squad.
Comment on ranking: “If Nick Ward returns, the Spartans will again have the most significant big man in the Big Ten and a guard named Cassius Winston (12.6 PPG, 49.7 percent from beyond the arc) to lead the squad. You can’t replace Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges. They’re unique talents. Marcus Bingham, a 6-9 top-100 big man, will work with Ward, Xavier Tillman and Kenny Goins to form a strong frontcourt and back a Big Ten contender.“ —Myron Medcalf
Other ranked Big Ten teams: Michigan (12th) and Purdue (24th)
CBS Sports: 11th
Comment on ranking: “The losses of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson to the NBA Draft will hurt. But it’s not like Tom Izzo didn’t have time to prepare for that development. And there are still enough nice pieces in East Lansing — plus a top-15 recruiting class on the way — to make the Spartans the favorite to win back-to-back Big Ten regular-season titles.” —Gary Parrish
Other ranked Big Ten teams: Maryland (16th) and Michigan (22nd)
Sports Illustrated: 12th
Comment on ranking: “Nick Ward has declared without an agent and could end up back in East Lansing, while Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford and Matt McQuaid should all be among those back. MSU will lose some of its veteran depth, but Tom Izzo will welcome a five-player class that includes three top-100 recruits.” —Molly Geary
Other ranked Big Ten teams: Michigan (4th) and Maryland (18th)
Associated Press: 11th
Comment on ranking: “The loss of Miles Bridges and potentially Jaren Jackson Jr. is tough, but Cassius Winston could emerge as a Big Ten player of year candidate.”
Other ranked Big Ten teams: Michigan (14th) and Maryland (19th)
Sporting News: 10th
Comment on ranking: “Sparty returns talent, with rotation regulars Nick Ward, Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford and Matt McQuaid expected back. The incoming class of freshmen newbies includes five 4-star recruits.” —Ryan Fagan
Other ranked Big Ten teams: Michigan (9th), Wisconsin (15th), Maryland (17th) and Penn State (23rd)
Yahoo! Sports: 9th
Comment on ranking: “Bridges, Schilling, Carter and Jackson, a projected lottery pick, are gone. Ward has also entered the draft without an agent, though he would be unlikely to be selected if he does not withdraw. Michigan State won’t be nearly as long or intimidating inside next season, but the Spartans should have plenty of experience in the backcourt.”
Other ranked Big Ten teams: Michigan (12th) and Wisconsin (25th)
SB Nation: 11th
Comment on ranking: “Look for Cassius Winston and Nick Ward to form one of the most lethal outside/inside combinations in college basketball. For the first time in a few years, Tom Izzo will be something of an underdog without a number of talented pieces he needs to keep happy. These are the situations where he tends to thrive.” —Mike Rutherford
Other ranked Big Ten teams: Michigan (10th)
From these rankings you can see a common theme of Michigan State — falling right inside or just outside the top 10. That’s not a bad spot to be, and maybe would be better for a bunch that had to deal with extremely high expectations this past season — something they never truly lived up to.
An interesting takeaway from these polls is that the experts like the Spartans to contend for another Big Ten title next season. Four of these seven polls had Michigan State as the highest ranked Big Ten team, with the other three polls having the Wolverines ahead of the Spartans. Maryland, Purdue, Penn State and Wisconsin also received some love in these polls, but ultimately the way-too-early rankings experts believe the Big Ten crown will either reside in East Lansing or Ann Arbor next year.
A lot is still up in the air that can change the Spartans’ 2018-19 outlook, but there’s one noticeably huge factor that’ll determine Michigan State’s capability — whether or not Ward returns for his junior season. All of these polls took into account that Bridges and Jackson were leaving early, but most of them expected Ward back. So it’s fair to say that if he ends up not returning to East Lansing, that the Spartans will drop quite a bit.
Another factor to keep in mind is the progress and improvement of Winston, Langford and McQuaid this offseason. Even if Ward returns, the backcourt will be Michigan State’s strength and all three of those guys will be called upon even more in 2018-19. So continuing to improve their game this offseason will be key for Michigan State to truly be a top 10 team next season.
As I said earlier, these rankings ultimately don’t mean a whole lot. So much can change from now until next November, and thus these rankings shouldn’t be taken too seriously. But they still are interesting to read, and should give Spartan fans some happy thoughts heading into a long offseason. That’s something this fanbase could use after a rough March and early April.