Throwing a curve

Did not see this coming:

6911112247_c9b883a553_medium

78% of the way into the Big Ten schedule and MSU is in the driver's seat. Now, that still leaves four games for things to go in any number of directions. But, to date, the team's results have been better than any objective observer could have predicted and any biased observer could have hoped for going into the season. (Now, just imagine if that overinflated ball could have dropped into the rim just one more time for MSU in Champaign. Sorry, deep breath, again: better than we could have hoped for.)

SpartanDan will have his more rigorous take on the state of the Big Ten race up tonight, but for now, I thought it would be fun to take a graphical look at how the three contenders for the conference title have gotten to where they are now. After the jump, I've charted each team's offensive and defensive efficiency marks on a game-by-game basis and then applied polynomial trendlines (order of 2, meaning they can only bend once). This is an exercise we've undertaken in the past--mainly because the charts are fun to look at/converse about. I don't pretend they have any predictive power. But, if we're going to nervously speculate about title chances, it's as good an approach as any.

Blue is offense; you want that to be higher. Red is defense; you want that to be lower.

6911170589_38e9d6f284_b_medium

Despite the somewhat odd results in Evanston and Champaign (OK, the somewhat predictable result in Evanston and the staggeringly strange result in Champaign), MSU has actually been pretty consistent over the 14 games. The defense has gradually improved, while the offense has dipped below the 100 mark just three times (twice in wins). The results over the last 5 games--3 of which have come against the best competition the leagues has to offer--have been downright smashing. MSU now stands neck and neck with Ohio State in terms of overall efficiency margin. If the team can stay the course vs. Minnesota and Nebraska, it comes down to winning at least one of the final two--at Indiana and home to Ohio State--neither of which will be anything resembling a cakewalk.

6911170679_de7a964d5f_b_medium

Other than a couple defensive lapses on the road--vs. a red hot Indiana team and a red hot Brandon Paul individual--Ohio State was humming along just like a national title contender should through 10 conference games. Over the last four games, however, they've looked downright mediocre. Their trendlines have actually crossed now. I think you'll see that trend reverse itself pretty quickly, but the Buckeyes have revealed themselves as mortal. They'll need to regrasp their earlier immortal-looking ways down the stretch (Illinois, Wisconsin, at Northwestern, at MSU) to win the outright title that looked to be in the offing until not too recently.

6911170733_fc893f7d94_b_medium

Michigan's been a little lucky--both in terms of scheduling (no game in Madison) and game outcomes (5-1 in conference games decided by 5 points or fewer)--but they're also building momentum at the right time. That momentum makes their remaining four games look less imposing than they would have looked a few weeks ago. Michigan will be favored in all four (at Northwestern, Purdue, at Illinois, at Penn State), although a loss wouldn't be a complete shock in any of the games.

Two bonus charts, for the two teams with the potential to play major spoiler since they play both Michigan and Ohio State twice in the closing weeks.

6911170791_56f1bdcc45_b_medium

Part of it's scheduling (their three games against the contenders to date came in the first five conference games), but the Wildcats do seem to be improving moderately as the season progresses. If they can win 3 of their last 4, which would require beating either Michigan or Ohio State at home, the since-the-dawn-of-recorded-history NCAA Tournament drought would at last come to an end.

6911170835_9cf55687d3_b_medium

I call this one "IMPLOSION." The writing is now on the wall for Bruce Weber, in indelible marker. I will take a somewhat contrarian position, though, and assert that the Illini may not roll over for the Buckeyes and Wolverines (the latter, in particular, since that's a home game for Illinois). The flip side to the recent collapse is that the pressure is now off. The players know they're not playing for Weber's job. A team with as much talent as Illinois has playing without the burden of expectations could be a dangerous thing for opponents.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join The Only Colors

You must be a member of The Only Colors to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at The Only Colors. You should read them.

Join The Only Colors

You must be a member of The Only Colors to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at The Only Colors. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9347_tracker