As we look at the calendar, it tells us clearly that March is just around the corner. When it comes to the Big Ten regular season race, the end is near. Time is running out, and the final picture for this phase of the season is coming into focus.
For MSU, they got a desperately needed win over Iowa on Tuesday night. Moreover, they proved that they actually could come from behind and execute winning plays against a good team in winning time. We knew that they had it in them (as many of the same guys did it last year, several times) and the stats were telling us that they could do it, but it is quite another thing to actually do it. They finally did it.
This team still has a way to go and not a lot of time left to get there. But, Tuesday night was progress. Beating Iowa was huge, both from a confidence standpoint, but also from a Quad 1 win and Big Ten Tournament tiebreaker standpoint. It also means that MSU is still in the hunt for a Big Ten title.
While the MSU-Iowa game was pretty big, there were several other games this week that also will have a big impact on the final Big Ten standings. First, Maryland staged a near-miracle comeback in Minneapolis to beat the Gopher by a point with less than 2 seconds on the clock. Penn State narrowly avoided a home upset loss to Rutgers. Finally, Wisconsin went into Ann Arbor and got a “W” for their 5th consecutive win. Considering all of those results, the updated Big Ten expected win matrix and trend plots are shown below:
Maryland maintains their commanding lead in the conference race with almost a 2-game lead in expected wins over the new 2nd place team, the Wisconsin Badgers, who with a very soft remaining schedule are now projected to win 13 games. Penn State is now in 3rd place, just 3 tenths of a game behind the Badgers.
Illinois and MSU are then neck-and-neck at about 12 and half wins, with Iowa solidly in 6th place at just below 12. Up next is Ohio State and Michigan at between 10 and 11 wins, followed by Rutgers, Indiana, Purdue, and Minnesota, who are all in danger of finishing below 500 in league play. Nebraska and Northwestern remain, as always, bad.
As for the translation to the odds to share / win the Big Ten, those are shown here:
With odds at over 95%, it would take an epic collapse for the Terrapins NOT to hang a Big Ten banner this year, which would be their first since joining the conference. As for teams that have a shot to tie them, Wisconsin is now the most likely at 11%, with MSU (8%), Penn State (7%), and Illinois (4%) all holding out hope.
Of course, MSU will have a shot to draw within a game of Maryland on Saturday night. If MSU wins, their odds to share in the title will only go up to around 20%. If they lose, well, they go to zero. No pressure...
Let’s also take a quick look at the current enhanced Big Ten standings:
While there is currently a 4-team tie for 2nd place, Illinois and Wisconsin are both sitting at +3, while Penn State and MSU are sitting at only +2. Practically, this tells us that Wisconsin and Illinois only have one road game remaining, while MSU and Penn State have two. Considering that one of Penn State’s two road games in at Northwestern, it is clear that MSU has the toughest road left.
I also would like to say a little bit more about the luck statistic. Currently, the Top 5 teams in the conference all have over a full game and in most cases over two full games of luck, EXCEPT MSU. Furthermore, Maryland’s luck goes far beyond just winning toss up games.
Take this week’s win in Minneapolis, for example. Very clearly, this was not a game Maryland should have won. Not only did they hit a near miracle 3-pointer with under 3 seconds on the clock, but they also benefited from Minnesota missing their final three free throw attempts, two of which were the front end of 1-and-1s. Quantitatively, Kenpom gave Maryland only a 2.8% chance to win that game with under a minute to play.
But, there’s more.
This is not the first time that Maryland has had a low probability comeback in Big Ten play. While the win over Minnesota was the least probable, Maryland has won THREE additional Big Ten games when their win probability was under 12% late in the game. We all remember the game at MSU (6.8%), but they also had improbable wins at Indiana (5.4%) and in their first game vs. Illinois (11.5%).
While Maryland certainly needed some grit to win those games, grit does not cause 75% shooters to miss 3 consecutive free throws. That is caused by something else. It’s called dumb luck. Maryland looks to me to be like the cat that has used up 7 or 8 of its 9 lives. March is a terrible time to have your luck run out. So is Leap Day.
So with the events of this week, where does MSU stand regarding seeding in the Big Ten Tournament? There are currently still just over a million possible remaining outcomes of the Big Ten season. But, if we consider the most likely of those scenarios (the one where all of the favorites win) we would get the following final Big Ten standings, with tie-breakers taken into consideration:
1. Maryland (15-5) with a close loss at Rutgers
2. Illinois (13-7)
3. Wisconsin (13-7)
4. Penn State (13-7)
5. Michigan State (12-8)
6. Iowa (12-8)
7. Ohio State (11-9)
8. Michigan (10-10)
9. Rutgers (10-10)
10. Indiana (10-10)
11. Purdue (9-11)
12. Minnesota (8-12)
13. Nebraska (3-17)
14. Northwestern (1-19)
In this scenario, MSU would have to play most likely Minnesota on Thursday of the Big Ten Tournament and if they win would then face a rested Penn State team on Friday. Not ideal.
But, here is the good news. The scenario shown above, though most probable, it still very unlikely. It my simulations of the remaining season, MSU actually finishes at least tied for 4th place in over 70% of the scenarios. In some of those cases, MSU would still lose the tiebreaker, but in many of them, they don’t. So, I would handicap that there is still better than a 50% chance that MSU gets a double bye.
One thing is for sure, though, and that’s the fact that MSU’s BTT seed as well as NCAA tournament seed will likely improve if they can get a win on Saturday night. March is coming, boys. It’s time to find that ceiling of potential. Go Green.