Either Michigan State coach Tom Izzo is sandbagging to provide some early motivation for his players, or he truly believes Purdue is the best team in next season's loaded Big Ten.
Izzo told ESPN.com that the Boilermakers should enter the season as Big Ten favorites even though the Spartans return all but one rotation player from their Final Four team and get star guard Kalin Lucas back from an Achilles tendon injury.
"People can pick us, pick them, but I think they're going to be the team to beat," Izzo said. "It'll be interesting to see who survives with so much on the line. We have everything we can chew and more this season."
Purdue and Michigan State figure to wage a year-long battle for the Big Ten title just like they did a season ago when they finished tied atop the conference with Ohio State. The Boilermakers might have won the title outright last season had forward Robbie Hummel not torn his ACL days before a crucial late-February matchup with the Spartans in West Lafayette.
The biggest questions facing Michigan State entering the season remain the health of Lucas and the status of fellow guard Chris Allen.
Lucas told the Detroit Free Press this week that his ruptured Achilles tendon has responded well to light jogging and his rehab remains on schedule. Meanwhile, Allen remains in limbo as he works to prove to Izzo that he deserves a spot on next season's team.
"He's got some things to handle, some things to take care of academically, and his commitment to everything is something I haven't been satisfied with," Izzo told ESPN.com. "We put some things together, made some ultimatums and we'll see if he lives up to them. If he does, I think he'll be back stronger than ever. And if he doesn't, to be honest, he won't."