I have been following MSU sports in various capacities since as far back as I can remember. For me, that goes back to the mid-1980s and at least the Scott Skiles era, if not farther. While much of that time was before our current 24/7-instant-information-from-the-Twitterverse era, I think that the following statement still rings true:
From a purely sports point-of-view, I cannot think of a 48 hour period of MSU sports in my lifetime that has been more soul-crushing that than this past weekend into Monday morning.
As for football, it really did seem like MSU just might have formulated and executed a plan to bring in their #1 choice to replace Coach Dantonio. It was almost like there was a legitimate succession plan in place that might have actually been in place for a short while. Was it possible that MSU actually had its crap together?
No, of course not. Because the hard truth of it is that being an MSU fan is sometime like volunteering to get kicked in the groin repeatedly. I have always been the eternal optimist, but today? That’s about the only words of wisdom I have.
As for basketball, how’s that going? Like the nightmare that you had two nights ago, but almost forgot about due to the new nightmare last night, it seems almost like a fading memory that MSU went into Ann Arbor, laid an egg, and got beat by one of the more mediocre Wolverine teams in recent memory. Cool, cool, cool.
So... how bad is it? Well, here is the updated Big Ten win matrix after the disaster in Ann Arbor, followed by the extremely sad trend plots.
In expected wins, MSU is now over two games back of Maryland, and down to 4th place overall, less than a game back of Penn State and Illinois. Iowa now sits a half game back of MSU, with Wisconsin, Purdue, and Rutgers about a full game back (at around 11). Minnesota and Ohio State are still hanging around 10, while Michigan and Indiana are a bit lower. Nebraska and Northwestern remain bad.
As for the odds to win or share the conference crown, let’s just cut to the chase... it’s not great:
But, then again, I suppose it could be worse? MSU’s odds of 14% are just a hair below that of Illinois (15%). Right now, Maryland (74%) is clearly the team to beat and Penn State (25%) and their #14 ranking in Kenpom has made a surprise jump to 2nd place in this metric.
As for the enhanced Big Ten standings, those are shown here:
By virtue of beating Illinois on the road last Friday, Maryland has now leapfrogged Illinois to lead in the category of +/-. Maryland also currently holds the leagues highest Kenpom rating, so it is no wonder that their odds to win the conference are so high.
So, what now? As I said, I am the eternal optimist, so if you are emotionally ready for optimism, I will give it a go.
First, MSU still (for now) controls its own destiny. MSU is two games back, but plays at least one game against every team ahead of us in the standings. If MSU runs the table, we still win the Big Ten. That’s not nothing... even if the odds of that are only about 2%.
Second, the advanced metrics still like MSU, despite the 3-game skid. MSU is still #10 in Kenpom and #11 in the NET. MSU is also one of only 5 teams or so that is still in the Top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. This may sound crazy, but those are still significant ingredients to a deep run in March. The ceiling of this team is still high, especially considering the field overall looks weaker than usual.
Third, nothing about the current skid seems uncorrectable. There are obviously a lot of challenges surrounding the team that are causing problems, whether they be personal tragedies, impending births, or a case of the flu. MSU is also struggling through the part of the season with the highest density of games. Tuesday will be the 7th game since January 23rd at Indiana. As a result, most of current issues seem to be effort and focus related. Those things can get fixed. And, based on Izzo’s track-record, those things most likely WILL get fixed. It’s not like two starters are out for the season with injuries.
I think that there is still some, if not a lot of good basketball left in this team. But, they still might accumulate some more ugly losses before we see it. But, I am confident that we WILL see it. Right now, MSU is projected to be a roughly a 5-seed. So far, MSU has “earned” that seed.
Eventually, I think that MSU will get pretty much exactly the seed that they deserve. It they can regain their form soon, that seed will go up. It not, it will likely continue to drop. There is certainly the scenario where MSU drops to something like a 7-seed or worse. But, I can tell you one thing, and that there is not a coach in America of a Top 10 team that wants to see Tom Izzo lined up in their bracket as a potential 2nd round opponent. Not one.
So, chins up, Spartan fans. Nobody said this was going to be easy. Onward to Illinois. Go Green!