CHICAGO – Despite the loss of sophomore point guard Marcus Taylor to the NBA this past summer, Michigan State and coach Tom Izzo are right back where they want to be. After its seemingly annual title of Big Ten preseason favorite was usurped by Illinois last year, the Spartans have reasserted themselves by reclaiming their place atop the Big Ten preseason voting in both the coaches and media polls.

This fall out of the top spot was a brief respite for a team that had made the previous three Final Fours and had to replace four starters. But this season, Izzo returns four starters, two of which are seniors Aloysius Anagonye and Adam Ballinger, along with a trio of standout sophomores.

“Last year, we weren’t (favored) and I felt that we played to those expectations that myself and others put on us,” Izzo said. “I think to get to that next level you have to realize that (recognition) is not just something people are going to give you, but rather a privilege.”

Following Michigan State in both polls was one of last year’s NCAA finalists, Indiana. Although coach Mike Davis has refused to name any of his starting five, the Hoosiers will be led by senior Tom Coverdale, who was named to the Preseason All-Conference Team.

After Michigan State and Indiana, it is as good as anybody’s guess which teams will compete amongst the top of the Big Ten. As usual, coaches are praising the parity and balance of the Big Ten.

“The thing that is different from the Big Ten and other leagues is that while it doesn’t have the appearance as being as top heavy as the ACC or Big 12, our league is not bottom heavy at all,” Illinois coach Bill Self said.

The media and coaches were split between the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year with the coaches picking sophomore Rick Rickert of Minnesota and the media choosing Illinois senior Brian Cook. Cook, a 6-foot-10 forward, follows former teammate Frank Williams in receiving the honor. Both Cook and Rickert were also named to the Preseason All-Conference Team.

Despite breaking his nose in practice last week, Cook (13.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game last year) refuses to wear a protective facemask, saying that it disturbs his vision. Does Cook feel that it in any way foreshadows or serves as an omen to his final season in Champaign?

“I don’t really read into it to much,” Cook said. “My main objective is to get this team as ready as I can.

“I played without it during our scrimmage yesterday and I could see better. If it gets hit, it gets hit. There is nothing I can really do about it.”

Rounding out the Preseason All-Conference Team are Ohio State senior guard Brent Darby (12.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg) and Wisconsin senior forward Kirk Penney (15.1 rpg, 4.9 rpg).

Preseason favorites

Big Ten coaches and media met in Chicago yesterday for the annual media day. Michigan State was selected by the coaches and media to finish first. Minnesota and Indiana tied for second in both polls. Here is the preseason first team All-Big Ten squad as voted by the media and coaches.

Player Team Year Pos. 2001-02 PPG
Brian Cook** Illinois Sr. F 13.5 ppg.
Tom Coverdale Indiana Sr. G 11.9 ppg.
Brent Darby Ohio St. Sr. G 12.8 ppg.
Kirk Penney Wisc. Sr. F 15.1 ppg.
Rick Rickert* Minn. So. F 14.2 ppg.
*denotes preseason player of the year by coaches selection
**denotes preseason player of the year by media selection

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