ESPN's Jay Bilas: Michigan State, Michigan remain Final Four contenders

The Detroit News
Jay Bilas of ESPN calls Nick Ward (44) and Michigan State a Final Four contender, along with Michigan, in his updated college basketball rankings.

Overall, Michigan and Michigan State are having stellar seasons. 

The rivals are ranked among the top 11 teams in the country in the most recent Associated Press Top 25, they're tied atop the rough-and-tumble Big Ten, they've each already hit the 20-win mark, and have just eight losses between them.

But, it's been more of a struggle recently. No. 6 Michigan (22-3), which opened its season with 17 straight victories, has split its last four games, including a loss in the last one to Big Ten cellar dweller Penn State.

No. 11 Michigan State, meanwhile, is coming off a big win at No. 20 Wisconsin, but it was just last week when the Spartans were riding a three-game slide — a skid that included news starting guard Joshua Langford was done for the season with a foot injury.

So, the luster has worn a little. But, ESPN's Jay Bilas wrote on Thursday that the Wolverines and Spartans remain Final Four contenders. Just not much more than that.

Bilas unveiled "Volume II" of his college basketball rankings, breaking them down into NCAA Tournament tiers, leading with national title favorites, and followed by Final Four contenders, second-weekend contenders, NCAA Tournament-worthy teams, and teams scratching for at-large bids.

Michigan State and Michigan, which less than a month ago, were looked at as potential No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, led the group of 13 Final Four contenders in "Tier Two." Michigan State checked in at No. 6 overall (following Bilas' five national-title favorites), with Michigan next at No. 7.

"With Joshua Langford, the Spartans were right there with Duke and Tennessee to cut the nets down," Bilas writes. "Without him, the Spartans are not as good but still good enough to get to Minneapolis. Cassius Winston must shoulder a bigger load on both ends of the floor and play more minutes, but everyone must do their jobs well and for longer stretches. There is something about this team that gives one a positive feeling. Michigan State is still Michigan State."

Michigan, meanwhile, remains "capable," despite struggling on offense and dealing with a short bench, Bilas writes.

"Spotty offensive efficiency and lack of depth have been issues for Michigan, which was playing as well as anyone a month ago," Bilas writes. "Still, the Wolverines are capable. They are just not quite as good as they were, relative to the crowd, which has moved past or is gaining on Michigan. This team can get better, but it won't get deeper. That could be the issue that ends the season earlier than expected."

Michigan faces a test on Saturday, playing host to Maryland, which is among Bilas' "Tier Three" teams. Michigan State, meanwhile, returns to action at home Sunday against Ohio State.