As we enjoy from the MLK long weekend we are now officially 35% of the way through the Big Ten regular season. At 6-1, MSU has gotten off to almost as good of a start as possible and currently has a full game lead over Illinois and Rutgers in the standings.
Friday’s win over Wisconsin was a big. The big story, of course, was Cassius Winston’s Big Ten record breaking assist. But, perhaps the most important development was the productivity of the rest of the wings, and the fact that MSU shut down and dominated one of the hottest teams in the conference.
When the dust settled on Sunday evening, here is where the current numbers are for the Big Ten race. As usual, the table gives the projected win matrix and expected win totals for all 14 Big Ten teams, based on a simulation backed by Kenpom efficiency margin data. The visual trends in expected wins are shown below that.
MSU’s expected win total is now back slightly above 14, which is still a full 2 games ahead of the 2nd place team, Maryland. Perhaps more of a surprise is the 3rd and 4th place teams, Iowa and Rutgers, who gained a little bit of separation from the pack over the weekend. Still, the difference in expected wins between 3rd place and 12th is still only 2.2 games. This is only slightly larger than MSU’s lead over Maryland. A lot can and will change over the next weeks.
As for the most likely final record for MSU, the win matrix suggests MSU has a 22% chance to finish 16-4 or better, a 22% chance to finish at 15-5, a 23% chance to finish at 14-6, and a 33% chance to actually finish at 13-7 or worse. As I said, a lot can certainly change, and it can change in a hurry.
As for the translation of these number to championship odds, the updated numbers and trends are shown below
MSU’s odds ticked up to just shy of 70%. Maryland’s odds stayed just below 20%, while now both Iowa and Rutgers are posting numbers above 10%.
As good as these numbers look, it is critical to realize how important it is to win on the road in Big Ten play this year and how little success anyone has had. Big Ten teams are currently 42-7 at home (86%) which as others have pointed out, is a pretty crazy stat. While MSU looks to have a comfortable lead, MSU also lacks a truly impressive road win (no offense, Northwestern). Who ever winds up winning the Big Ten is going to need to win some big games on the road.
One way to visualize this is to consider the “plus/minus” rating for each team’s road/home performance. This is a simple metric where a team gets 1 point for a road win and loses a point for a home loss. This is a useful took to compare teams when the home/road games are out of balance (like MSU’s schedule is now.) The current Big Ten standing, showing the +/- values is shown below:
While MSU does have a lead, no team is better than +1, and six teams are in that category. MSU has the chance to push their value to +3 in the next two games. They need to get to at least +2 before the halfway point of the season or the race is suddenly very wide open. The back half of the schedule is going to be significantly more challenging than the front half.
More quantitatively, if MSU wins the next two, their odds to win (or share) the Big Ten title will surge to ~85%. If MSU splits the two games, they are treading water at right around 70%. If MSU were to lose both at Indiana and Minnesota, their odds project a drop to just below 50% and “the field” becomes the new Big Ten favorite.
MSU can dominate opponents at Breslin. It’s time to show that they can do the same on the road.