Most of the way-too-early top 25 polls for next season have had Michigan State No. 1, but ESPN doesn’t think the Spartans should even be ranked second.
Instead, ESPN has the Spartans ranked third in their updated top 25 for next season, trailing Arizona and Kansas.
Key losses: Eron Harris, Alvin Ellis III
Key additions: Jaren Jackson, Xavier Tillman, Ben Carter
First Way-Too-Early ranking: 12
Miles Bridges (16.9 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 39 percent from the 3-point line) compiled numbers that would send most sensational freshmen to the NBA draft. But Bridges refused the one-and-done experience to return to a dynamic Michigan State squad that could dominate the Big Ten after a rare finish outside the top four in the conference standings last season. His presence next to five-star recruit Jaren Jackson gives the Spartans a combination of talent that few programs in the country will be able to defend. And it doesn't end there. Nick Ward (13.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG) leads a group that will return four of its top-five scorers from last season. Ben Carter (8.6 PPG in 2015-16 at UNLV) finally gets a chance to contribute after missing last season because of a knee injury. Gavin Schilling and freshman Xavier Tillman will enhance coach Tom Izzo's frontcourt. His squad isn't higher in this poll, because it's not clear if the Spartans addressed their challenges with turnovers (20.5 percent of their possessions, 304th) and free throws (67 percent, 285th).
Even though teams like Kansas had key players decide return on Wednesday, no one can match what the Spartans have, mostly because few teams in college hoops will return as much of their team as Michigan State will.
Joshua Langford, Cassius Winston and Nick Ward showed great potential last year, so there’s no reason to not expect a big jump from this as sophomores. The same is true of Bridges, though he was already a star last year who could become a superstar Player of the Year candidate next season.
Arizona and Kansas will be formidable teams next season, but they don’t have quite the firepower Michigan State has.