Life on the road is tough. Coming into the four-game stretch that MSU just completed, I knew that there would be some bumps. I was hoping MSU could escape with a 3-1 record, but a 2-2 record would not be a surprise. Honestly, it was the game at Minnesota that scared me the most. Just looking at the location and timing of the games, the final stop on the 3-out-of-4 game road trip (on only 2 days rest) seemed like the most likely loss to me.
So, once MSU dropped 2 games in the state of Indiana, I was concerned. While there is still a lot of basketball yet to by played, it would have been very disappointing to see this team completely squander the commanding lead in the conference race that they had just a few games ago. Had MSU lost on Sunday, they could no longer consider them the Big Ten favorite, and the team’s struggles away from Breslin would be approaching crisis status.
Fortunately, that did not happen. MSU finally showed the same close-to 40 minute domination that they had been displaying at home. As a result, MSU remains in a tie for first place with Illinois. As for the updated win matrix with expected win totals, as of Monday morning it looks like this (followed by the expected wins trend plots):
The win over Minnesota and associated boost in Kenpom efficiency drove MSU’s expected win total back up over 14, which is slightly more than a full game ahead of Maryland and Illinois, who are now in a virtual tie for second place with just under 13 expected wins.
As we move down the standings, some separation is starting to emerge. Iowa (11.9) is about a half game up on Rutgers (11.4) who is a half game up on Wisconsin and Penn State (10.8). After that, Minnesota, Purdue, Indiana, and Ohio State are all hovering near 10 expected wins.
Michigan (8.1) is in serious danger. I seriously doubt a Big Ten team will make the tournament with a losing record, and I only give them a 19% chance of getting to 10 wins or more. After that, Nebraska (4.2) is started to get a little separation from cellar-dweller Northwestern (3.4).
As for the odds to win or share the Big Ten, that table and trend chart is updated below:
MSU’s odds for a Big Ten title are still tops in the league at just under 60%. Consistent with the expected wins, I project Maryland (27%) to have a slight lead over Illinois (25%), with Iowa (12%) and Rutgers (6%) still hanging around.
Right now, I project there to be only a 24% chance that the eventual Big Ten champ(s) finishes at 16-4 or better. 15-5 (38%) or 14-6 (31%) are much more likely. Also, my simulations suggest that there is currently a ~72% chance that we see a solo champion, a 21% of a 2-way tie, and a 7% chance of a multiple-team tie. MSU is the solo champion in about 40% of my simulations.
As for the updated Big Ten standings, including the +/- ratings (road wins minus home losses) that is show here:
While the road teams have found more recent success (road teams won 8 of the last 13 Big Ten games since 01/20) only Illinois, MSU, and Maryland currently have +/- scores over two. From this point of view, Illinois does have an advantage over MSU being that they have already played (and won) an additional road game. However, MSU is still considered the better team (based on Kenpom efficiencies and the old fashion “eye test”) and thus MSU has better numbers overall.
MSU returns home on Wednesday for perhaps the easiest game on the entire Big Ten schedule: Northwestern. After that, however, MSU has a rather nasty 5-game stretch:
- 2/1 @ Wisconsin (53%) — 2 days rest
- 2/4 vs. Penn State (76%) — 2 days rest
- 2/8 @ Michigan (53%) — 3 days rest
- 2/11 @ Illinois (52%) — 2 days rest
- 2/15 vs. Maryland (66%) — 2 days rest
Each game may not look that scary individually, but but the number of road games and the amount of rest is troubling. MSU is projected to be favored in all of those games, but they are all near toss-ups. The expected number of wins is 3.0. So, in order for MSU to stay “on schedule”, they need to win 3 of these 5 games. If MSU can go 4-1 or even 5-0, that would be outstanding. If MSU goes only 2-3, well, the Big Ten race would then almost certainly be a dogfight to the end.
That is all for now. I will most likely give another full update following this week. Until next time and as always, Go Green.