The Big Ten has been the best conference in college basketball all season.
The conference has had three teams in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll a majority of the season and has featured the No. 1 team in the rankings 10 of the 16 weeks.
That’s made for many top 10 matchups of Big Ten teams throughout the conference schedule. And former Spartan star and Lansing native Magic Johnson, who called Tuesday’s Indiana-MSU game with Dick Vitale and Mike Tirico, believes the league is the best its been since he played from 1977-79.
“I think this comes right when I played. You have to remember Indiana won the NIT and we won the national championship,” Johnson said prior to Tuesday’s game. “That’s how strong the Big Ten was when I played.”
Johnson pointed out that when he played a Big Ten player was selected with the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft four straight years. It started with Indiana’s Kent Benson in 1977, Minnesota’s Mychal Thompson in 1978, Magic in 1979 and Purdue’s Joe Barry Carroll in 1980. And Minnesota’s Kevin McHale went with the No. 3 pick in that 1980 draft.
“This almost rivals that time,” Johnson said. “When Ohio State was great, Herb Williams, I mean the Big Ten was outstanding with Phil Hubbard leading the University of Michigan. We had an outstanding time then. I think this rivals that. We haven’t seen this in a long time in the Big Ten.”
Johnson believes four teams or five teams in the Big Ten have strong shots to win the national championship this season.
“I’m happy that when Michigan gets to the tournament they’ll be dangerous,” Johnson said. “Ohio State will be dangerous. Indiana is always dangerous and well coached. Of course (Indiana and MSU) are the best at what they do, especially on the defensive end and rebounding.”
Other things Johnson touched on during his session with the media are below:
Johnson on the recent death of Los Angeles Lakers majority owner Dr. Jerry Buss:
“You know Dr. Buss was my second father. I’ll never forget Dr. Buss. I’m constantly in touch with the Buss family to make sure of the arrangement and what’s going on. He made me the man I am today, forget just the basketball player, but the man that I am. I owe a lot to Dr. Buss. I think the reason I own the Dodgers today is because of Dr. Nuss and his expertise of giving me sound business advice and making sure I took care of my money and things of that nature. I owe him a lot. His spirit lives through me. I’m going to be continue to be a good man and person, just like he was.”
Johnson on the family atmosphere within the MSU basketball program:
“Everything we have going here started with Coach (Jud) Heathcote and the passed onto Coach Izzo. Tom has done a wonderful job. Even though we didn’t play for Tom, he embraced all of us from myself, Greg (Kelser), everybody. Coach Izzo has a way of working and supporting all the players, whether they’re in the program now or in the past. We love being a part of Michigan State and the reason why is Coach Izzo.
“He’s always going to be there for you, to give you advice or just say ‘Hey, happy birthday.’ Him and I talk all the time. I’m just happy he’s allowed me to be a part of this special program. He’s going to be with you for life, not just four years while you’re here. After you leave Coach Izzo will still be part of your life, just like if you were playing here today. His wife Lupe, same thing. We love them. All of us fans should be indebted to Coach Izzo.”