Full disclosure: I did not actually watch the game on Saturday night. I had family obligations and was recording the game for potential viewing at a later time in the evening. I did manage to catch the score a little before half time and that was enough for me to know that this was one of those games where it would be best just to check the score once the game was finished to see if it was going to be worth watching or not.
Once I got home, I checked the final score. Then I checked the box score and final play-by-play details. At that point I was truly grateful that I did not watch the game, and especially the final four minutes, as my living room does contain few heavy objects, and I don’t particularly feel like buying a new television.
As I said on Friday, this was a game that MSU needed to win. They didn’t. So now, it is time to re-evaluate goals and expectations. From a numerical point of view, here is where MSU stands following yet another very costly loss:
From an expected win point of view, Maryland has almost of full game lead over Penn State. Penn State now has almost a 2-game lead over the 3rd place team, which is still, believe it or not, your MSU Spartans. But, several other teams are now closing in. Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois are all a half game back or less from MSU.
Rutgers and Ohio State are next up, followed by Michigan, who for the first time since mid-January is above 10 wins in expected value again. Meanwhile, Purdue and Indiana have slipped below 10 wins and Indiana is now under 8.5. Nebraska and Northwestern remain very, very bad.
As for the championship odds, those are shown here:
As predicted, MSU’s loss essentially makes the Big Ten regular season race a 2-horse affair between Maryland and Penn State. MSU’s odds are now very slim (4%). Even if MSU runs the table from here on out, the odds are below 50% that they would still share the title. It is time to focus on what’s next. For good measure, here is the current enhanced Big Ten standings:
So, what is next? I think that the next logical question is can MSU still get a Top 4 seed in the BTT and avoid playing on Thursday. While I cannot give you exact odds on that (my simulation doesn’t quite track the right data to handle tie-breakers) I can give a pretty good rule of thumb:
If MSU can finish at 12-8 (winning 3 of the final 5 games) or better, then a Top 4 seed is very likely. The odds to finish 12-8 or better (based on the win matrix above) are about 64%. So, I think that it is safe to safe that playing on Thursday is a roughly 50-50 proposition at this point. If MSU can only finish at 11-9, a 5 or 6 seed in the BTT seems likely. A 10-10 record may only be good enough for an 8-seed. Let’s try not to think about that...
Again, this is purely based on math derived from season-averaged Kenpom data. MSU is clearly under-achieving right now. MSU is in a slump and they need to pull themselves out of it. At this point, I honestly don’t have a lot of faith that they are going to turn things around. However, I do still have the hope that they will. Hope and faith are very different things.
As for the case for hope, here goes. MSU is still playing enough good backetball, at times, to give me hope that there is still a good to very good basketball team in there somewhere. We saw that team in early January. The roster is still there. Kenpom suggests that on average, they are still there (still 10th overall). MSU just hasn’t been able to string together more than about 20 minutes of good effort together at a time recently to actually beat many good teams. Can and will that get better?
I think there is hope that it does. For one thing, MSU has been playing A LOT of games right on top of each other for the last month. For the last 7 games, MSU has been playing on either 3- or mostly 2-days rest. The remaining 5 games are more spread out. MSU has 4 days off before the game at Nebraska and another 4 days off before hosting Iowa, and then 3 days off before a trip to Maryland.
While that may not seem like a big deal, I think that it is, both from a rest stand-point as well as a practice standpoint. When we also consider the fact that half of the team seems to have had the flu over the last month, perhaps it is no surprise that the team is a step slow at times. A step slow is enough to get beat most nights in the Big Ten.
This is also typically the time year when Izzo is (trying) to tighten the final screws on team. He will have more time to do so over the next few weeks. The only question is whether the screws still have threads on them. I hope that they do, but I cannot be certain.
There is that word again... hope. A few weeks ago I would have used faith. Now, we are down to hope. Hope is not nothing, but it also isn’t a strategy. Fortunately, I am not the one that needs to develop and execute the strategy to try to fix this team. That man is Coach Izzo. While I don’t necessarily have faith in this team anymore, I do have faith in Coach Izzo. If anyone can fix this... it’s him.
Next up is a mid-week trip to Lincoln to face the very bad Nebraska Cornhuskers. MSU needs to leave town with its 10th conference win, or things could get very, very ugly. At this point, we cannot and should not look any farther ahead. Let’s just take this one step at a time and hope for the best. Go Green.