We are only 6 days into the new decade and it has already been a very positive year for MSU hoops. The Spartans got two big wins since the calendar rolled over against Kenpom Top 40 teams. Furthermore, two of MSU’s potential title rivals (Purdue and Ohio State) both took an additional “L” in 2020 so far. This is particularly significant since my preseason analysis suggested that those two teams (Purdue in particular) had a slight schedule advantage.
But, how do the event impact the overall Big Ten race, numerically? The following table gives the update Big Ten w:ins matrix and expected win totals after Sunday’s action, using the updated Kenpom efficiency data:
For a more visual representation, here are the trends in expected wins back to the beginning of Big Ten play:
Amazingly, this analysis suggests that MSU has a 2.2 game lead in expected wins after only 4 games played. That is absolutely huge. For now, Ohio State still looks to be the biggest threat, with Maryland just a hair behind. Those two teams will face each other tomorrow night at Maryland, so there is a good chance that Maryland will seize control of 2nd place. That is certainly the current trend.
After those top three, there is a real log-jam in the middle of the conference with 9 teams all projected to win between 9 and 11 games. So far, Penn State, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan are all trending towards 11 wins, Purdue, Rutgers, and Illinois project to win 10, and Minnesota and Indiana look to win 9.
Northwestern and Nebraska are currently quite a ways back and are only projected to win 4 games.
As for the odds to win the conference (at least tie for 1st place), those odds are shown here, with the trends below:
As expected based on the previous table, MSU has a big lead in the odds department and now has a 74% chance to hang another banner. OSU and Maryland check in at 19% and 14%, while the rest of the conference is at 5% or below.
While MSU is currently sitting pretty at 4-0, I think that it is important not to get too excited. The math does suggest that a record of 16-4 or so will be enough to win the conference. In fact, there is only a 25% chance that any team finishes at 17-3 or better. In other words, losses are coming. If nothing else, MSU has gotten the luxury of playing 3 of the first 4 conference games at home, and the one road game was against one of the two worst teams in the league. Home teams are still 20-3 so far in conference play. There is going to be a rough patch or two in the next 8 weeks. Don’t freak out when it happens.
Fortunately, Kenpom data can also help us rank the remaining games from hardest to easiest. Based on the current data, that list looks like this (with the win probability in parentheses):
- @ Maryland (47%)
- @ Michigan (54%)
- @ Purdue (57%)
- @ Wisconsin (57%)
- @ Penn St. (58%)
- @ Illinois (62%)
- @ Minnesota (64%)
- vs. Ohio St. (64%)
- @ Indiana (65%)
- vs. Maryland (72%)
- vs. Iowa (78%)
- vs. Wisconsin (79%)
- vs. Penn St. (80%)
- vs. Minnesota (84%)
- @ Nebraska (92%)
- vs. Northwestern (95%)
The toughest 5 road games all have win probabilities between 47% and 60%. MSU will likely win 2-3 of those games. The next 5 games all have win probabilities between 60% and 75%. MSU should win 3 of those games. The final 6 games have win probabilities between 75% and 95%. MSU should win 5-6 of those games. For better or worse, of the toughest 5 games, only the game @ Purdue is coming up in the next few weeks.
For MSU to be a champion, they just need to finish ahead of the curve in those three groups. In other words, win 3 (not 2) of the toughest 5, and lose no more than 2 games in the bottom 10. That gets you to 16-4 and earns you a banner (most likely). That is more wins than MSU is currently expected to win, based on raw probability (15.2, in the original table), but championship teams need to win more toss-ups than they lose.
It’s early, but things are looking good so far for MSU. Go Green.