The regular season is behind us and we are officially into tournament season. The Spartans wrapped up the regular season by winning their 15th Big Ten title, the second in a row. I am not sure at the start of the season that many people thought a second straight conference title was in the cards. And if you had said that MSU would play basically the entire Big Ten schedule without Langford and the last couple weeks without Ward, I would have said they have no shot.
Yet here we are. The Spartans hung another banner, and they have been one of the best teams in the country both offensively and defensively for most of the season. There is still the not so small matter of the NCAA Tournament, but to this point, this might be one of Tom Izzo’s best coaching jobs. Of the nine Big Ten titles Izzo has now won, this one might be the most satisfying.
So let’s take a look at where the team ended up after the regular season, and we will do a brief look ahead to the post-season.
The Spartans currently sit fourth in the Kenpom ranks overall. They have been fourth for the better part of the last couple of months. However, the gap between them and the next two teams ahead of them has narrowed. The gap between MSU and number two Gonzaga is 2.1, with the gap between MSU and number three Duke at 1.02. The gap between MSU and number five North Carolina is 2.01. So the Spartans are more or less as close to being number two as UNC is to them.
The real gap is between Virginia and everyone else. It is nearly four points between UVA and second place Gonzaga. The Cavaliers have been that good, and that is why they are going to be the number one overall seed.
MSU remains a top ten team both offensively and defensively. They are fourth in offensive efficiency, and currently 10th on defense. They remain one of only three teams to be top ten in both.
Throughout the year we have compared this year’s MSU team efficiencies with those of past MSU teams. So as we head into the post-season, let’s do that one more time.
The Spartans AdjO of 121.7 is the second best for an MSU team since 2001. Their number four ranking in that area is also tied for second best. The best AdjO is the 2016 team, which finished second at 123.4.
The AdjD of 91.0 is the best since the 2013 team. It compares closely with the 2007 team, as well as the 2009 and 2003 teams.
If you want to find another team that finished top ten in both you have to go back to the 2001 Final Four team. That team was also +30.7 overall, which is what this MSU team currently is.
That is the only other MSU team that was +30 or better for the season.
So if you are looking for a comparison, that team remains the best one for this group in terms of efficiency. Hopefully the final result is similar.
Big Ten Player of the Year
Cassius Winston deservedly won the Big Ten Player of the Year award, the ninth Spartan to take home the award. He was also named to the first of several All-American teams, as he was awarded first team honors by the Sporting News.
Winston was truly incredible for the Spartans this year, averaging 19 points and 7.6 assists. He joins Denzel Valentine as the only Spartan to average 19 points and 7 assists for a season.
Winston also played in 82.4% of all minutes for Michigan State this year, and 86.7% of all Big Ten minutes.
Winston is third in the nation in assist rate, tops in the Big Ten, and moved into second place all-time on MSU assist list. He also finished in the top-15 in just about every advanced category in conference play outside of rebounding.
Looking at some of the player comparisons on Kenpom, and one of the names that comes up is Kalin Lucas in 2010. That team ended up going to a second straight Final Four without Lucas, who was injured early in the NCAA Tournament.
This year’s squad will go as far as Winston takes them. How far that is, we will need to see. Winston has started to wear down a little, despite the production still being at a high level. We have heard reports he is battling tendonitis in his knees and was hobbling around after the Michigan win on Saturday. Clearly he’s feeling the effects of the high usage.
One area where the fatigue is noticeable stats wise is in Winston’s three-point shooting. Over the last six games Winston is shooting just 21.4% from beyond the arc. His lone make in six attempts against Michigan was banked in, and that was only his second made three in the last four games.
It is possible that the return of Nick Ward will help with Winston’s shooting, allowing him more open looks, but we will have to wait and see. Either way, Winston has continued to find ways to score and facilitate even without his three-point shooting. I don’t see that changing.
Does the Big Ten Tournament Matter
The Spartan fan base is split on how they feel about the Big Ten Tournament. There is the group that thinks that every game is important and that MSU should play all out to win the BTT. While there is another group that prefers the Spartans bow out early, get some rest, and gear up for the NCAA.
I don’t think either opinion is necessarily right, or wrong. When it comes to this particular weekend, MSU does have very little to gain, even by winning the whole thing. As I said in yesterday’s Bracketology post, I think the Spartans are pretty much set as a two-seed. Even winning the Big Ten Tournament would require some outside help to move up to a one-seed.
But let’s put the extra rest versus winning it all and carrying momentum theory to test and see how the past MSU Big Ten champs did in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments.
Three previous MSU teams won both the Big Ten regular season and conference tournament. Here they are with their NCAA results:
98-99: Final Four
99-00: National Champions
11-12: Sweet Sixteen
Those are pretty solid results. Two final fours, a National Title, and a Sweet Sixteen as the worst result.
Now for the other five teams that did not win the Big Ten Tournament and how they ended up doing in the NCAA Tournament:
97-98: Sweet Sixteen
00-01: Final Four
08-09: National Runner Up
09-10: Final Four
17-18: Second Round
Once again, pretty good results overall. Three of the five teams went to the Final Four and all but one made it to the second weekend. The one outlier is of course last year’s team. In fact, last year’s team was the only MSU team under Izzo to win the Big Ten and not make it to the second weekend.
Now, of those teams we just looked at that did not win the Big Ten tourney, three of the five of them lost the first game they played. Those three were the 97-98, 00-01, and 09-10 teams. As you can see, two of those three went on to the Final Four.
The other two teams, the 08-09 and 17-18 teams, lost in the semi-finals.
So of the five Michigan State teams to win the Big Ten and make the Final Four, two of them won the Big Ten Tournament, two of them lost the first game they played in the Big Ten tourney, and one of them lost in the Big Ten semis.
So if you are on team win it and carry momentum, or on team rest for the Big Dance, you have an equal chance at getting a Final Four result historically.
Just for reference, the non-Big Ten champs to make the Final Four in 2005 and 2015 also had mixed results. The 2005 team lost their first Big Ten Tournament game, while the 2015 team lost the Championship game in overtime to Wisconsin.
Alright, everyone ready? Tournament time is here. Let’s go.