Some days these articles are more fun to write than others. Some days MSU games are more fun to watch than others. I would postulate that those two factors are strongly correlated. For the second time in three games, MSU went on the road in the state of Indiana, got off to a horrible start, and wound up losing.
On a positive note, MSU showed a lot more fight in the second half than they did in West Lafayette and Winston seems to have broken out of his mini-slump in the 2nd half. However, when it came down to “winning time,” Indiana was the team that made the keys plays to win the game while MSU did not.
If you think about it, MSU has been in very few games this year where they faced true game pressure late. Most of their wins (and a couple of their loses) have been in blow-out fashion. Last night was a chance to show that this year’s version of the Michigan State Spartans could eek out a close game in a hostile environment for the first time since the Seton Hall win in mid-November. They failed to deliver.
In the grand scheme of things, one loss does not matter much. MSU has plenty of chances going forward to rack up quality wins, hang some banners, and make a deep run in March. But, MSU first needs to prove that they can play just as well away from East Lansing as they can inside the Breslin Center. They have yet to do so.
Adversity can be a great teacher, and hopefully the team learned a few lessons last night. If they did, and if they can grow as a team, this group still has the chance to achieve great things. Last year’s team did just that. However, the 2018 MSU team with Bridges and JJJ never did learn those lessons, and as a result their March run ended almost before it began. The 2020 MSU season could go either way right now, and the clock is ticking. I still like this team’s odds, but they still clearly have a lot of work to do.
Speaking of odds, how did the results of the last few days impact the overall Big Ten race? The table below shows the updated win matrix, followed by the season trends.
Last night’s loss clearly put a dent in MSU’s expected win total, which at 13.3 is now at its lowest point of the season. The good news is that this is still the highest value in the Big Ten, but MSU’s once commanding lead in expected wins is now down to less than a game.
Maryland maintained their position in second place at 12.5, while Illinois and Iowa both made strong moves this week to push their expected win totals over 12 wins as well. Farther down the “standings” we can see a bit of separation starting to appear. Wisconsin and Rutgers’ expected wins are right around 11.5, while Penn State, Minnesota, and Indiana are around 10.5. Ohio State, Purdue, and Michigan have sunk below the 10 win mark and are drifting into NIT territory. Nebraska and Northwestern remain in the doormat category.
As for the translation of this data to Championship odds, those are summarized in the following table and figure
MSU’s odds to win or share the Big Ten title, by this estimation, have now sunk below 50%. That means that “the field” now has slightly better odds to win the Big Ten. As the expected win table suggests, the biggest threats to MSU remain Maryland (26%), Illinois (19%), and Iowa (17%) with Wisconsin and Rutgers both posting numbers around 10%. MSU is still in the lead, but the field is catching up.
In addition, the Big Ten standings including the road win / home loss plus / minus numbers are shown below:
While MSU is currently in a tie with Illinois in the standings, the Illini now have 2 road wins to their credit (at Wisconsin and at Purdue), while the rest of the contenders all sit at +1. I actually think that this is a fairly big deal. Considering the continued struggles that the road teams have had so far this year, this gives Illinois a nice leg up right now.
MSU can right the ship a bit by getting a road win in Minneapolis this weekend. That in itself would push MSU’s odds back up to around 60%. If they lose, I think the odds will drop to around 33%, and the Big Ten race will truly be wide open again. But for now, MSU still controls their own destiny. They just need to grab a hold of the reins.