ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP) — Michigan State was a unanimous pick to win the Big Ten, and Spartans guard Gary Harris was selected Preseason Player of the Year in a vote by conference media.
With four starters back from a team that went 27-9 and advanced to the Sweet 16, expectations are soaring again for coach Tom Izzo's Spartans. They beat out NCAA runner-up Michigan, with Ohio State picked third.
"I think we deserve to be up there," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said at the conference's media day on Thursday. "I'm not sure we deserve to be where we are. I'm not sure anybody does at this stage in time because of the parity that still is in college basketball. We've got a good team. We've got a veteran team."
Leading the way for Michigan State is Harris, who averaged 12.9 points and was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year last season. Izzo said he could be one of the best guards he's coached with his ability to shoot and defend, not to mention his humility.
"I don't see the celebrity side of it bothering him as long as he stays healthy, which he's had no issues at all," Izzo said. "This kid has gotten better and better and I think will get better and be one of the all-time great guards at Michigan State."
Spartans center Adreian Payne also made the first team, as did Michigan's Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III, Ohio State's Aaron Craft and Penn State's Tim Frazier. Six players were selected because there was a tie.
Michigan has three starters back from a team that came within a few points of the NCAA championship, but the Wolverines also have two big holes to fill. National Player of the Year Trey Burke left for the NBA along with backcourt mate Tim Hardaway Jr.
But with McGary back after coming on strong down the stretch and Robinson still in the mix, the Wolverines should be vying for the conference championship. The 6-foot-10 McGary considered turning pro after averaging 14.3 points and 10.7 rebounds in the NCAA, but decided to stay in school.
Ohio State needs to replace leading scorer Deshaun Thomas after he decided to forgo his senior season and jump to the NBA. But with four starters back after a run to the Elite Eight, the Buckeyes have plenty of experience.
Craft and backcourt mate Lenzelle Smith Jr. have already won 94 games in their career. Both are excellent defenders, but the Buckeyes will need more consistency on offense from Smith.