One look at the most recent AP basketball poll and one thing immediately jumps off the page — Michigan State is No. 2 in the country.
But, there’s a second thing that immediately jumps out at me, and that is the fact that there is a rather large gap between the Spartans and anyone else in the Big Ten.
Michigan State is the only Big Ten team currently inside the top 10 of the rankings and you have to go all the way to No. 17 to find the next Big Ten team — Purdue.
That’s also it for the Big Ten in the AP poll all together.
Not even Ohio State’s 8-3 start and 2-0 start to Big Ten play has been deemed worthy of a single vote in the AP poll.
Say what you want about the Buckeyes losing to both Butler and Gonzaga, but in previous years any team starting off the Big Ten as hot as Ohio State has would be at least worthy of a look from one voter in the AP poll.
But, the fact that OSU hasn’t garnered any attention after sweeping the first weekend of Big Ten action speaks volumes. It tells us that those who pay attention to the college game from the first moments of the season see this as a one-horse race and one that isn’t even close.
Michigan State has certainly helped their case with an impressive opening run to the season. Sitting at 9-1 and 2-0 in Big Ten play is a good start, but it is the details that suggest this is the Spartans year to run away with the Big Ten title.
The Spartans own two of the best non-conference wins from any B1G team this season — crushing North Carolina and Notre Dame in back-to-back contests.
It also doesn’t hurt that in the nine wins to date, Michigan State has won by at least 10 points or more. Yes, not a single game has been within single digits for the win.
Michigan State also isn’t a one-man show this season. So far, five players are averaging in double figures, led of course by all-everything guard Miles Bridges’ 15.6 points per game. But, he isn’t doing the work alone as Nick Ward, Joshua Langford and Cassius Winston are all averaging more than 12 points per game. Then there’s Jaren Jackson Jr., who is averaging a solid 10.8 points per game through the first 10 games of the season.
That smacks of a team ready to dominate on the Big Ten scene when conference play re-starts in earnest in a few weeks time. But, is Michigan State really head-and-shoulders above the rest of the league?
Of course, other measures of basketball acumen suggest that the gap is nowhere near as big as the AP voters suggest. Take the Ken Pomeroy rankings for example.
Michigan State sits second in the country to Villanova, just like it does in the AP rankings. But, the gap between MSU and the next team from the Big Ten is much smaller. That’s because Purdue comes in at No. 8 in the country according to the KenPom rankings.
The Boilermakers are actually better offensively than Michigan State, coming at No. 10 in AdjO on the KenPom rankings, compared to No. 14 for Michigan State.
But, those are the only two teams inside the top 25 of the KenPom rankings. One would have to go all the way down to No. 35 to find the next Big Ten team and that team is Minnesota.
Maryland (No. 38), Penn State (No. 40) and Michigan (No. 41) round out the Big Ten’s contingent inside the top 50 of the KenPom rankings as well.
Therein lies the biggest factor suggesting that Michigan State may indeed run away with the Big Ten title this season — it’s a down year for the conference, and one of the strongest Michigan State teams in recent memory.
Wisconsin’s struggles, along with those of Iowa, Indiana and Northwestern suggest a conference that is going through some changes and struggling to find a competitive core outside of conference play.
In conference, the one weekend of action already in the books suggest that this is going to be a conference that beats up on each other once again. Only Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue came away from the first two games with a perfect record. Eight teams sit at 1-1, while Illinois, Iowa and Rutgers all have two losses under their belts.