Since it has been a slow week for MSU sports news :) and the fact that there are no Big Ten games on Thursday, it seems like a good day to provide as update on the current status of the Big Ten basketball conference race. Obviously, Tuesday night’s game went... poorly. But, exactly how much damage was done to MSU’s chances at a Big Ten 3-peat? Let’s once again turn to the expected win table, based on the most up-to-date Kenpom efficiency numbers:
For the first time all year, MSU has dropped out of first place in both the actual standings and in the expected win race. I now have MSU in third place, almost a full game behind Maryland and about 0.3 of a game behind Illinois. In addition, MSU is now just a hair (0.02 games) in front of Penn State, who has now moved into 4th place.
More than a game back from the Nittany Lions is Iowa (11.30) and below the Hawkeyes is a log-jam of 5 teams (Rutgers, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Purdue) all with expected win totals between 10.4 and 10.9). The bottom four is then rounded out with Indiana and Michigan at just below 9 wins, with Nebraska and Northwestern a distance 13th and 14th.
As for the odds to win or share a Big Ten title, the updated odds table is shown below:
As the trend graph shows, the events of the last two days had a huge impact on the Big Ten odds. MSU’s odds were still over 50% coming into the Penn State game, and now they are down to only 26%. MSU’s loss is Maryland’s (and Penn State’s) gain, as both teams rocketed up to odds of 51% and 23% respectively. Illinois also ticked up to 33%.
As for the updated Big Ten standings, those are shown here:
There are two ways to look at MSU’s current situation. Right now, MSU is not playing well. Period. Just a few week ago, as the plot shows, MSU’s odds to win the Big Ten were around 80%. BUT, the math that backed that calculation makes the tacit assumption that MSU would continue to play at the same level that they had been playing up to that point. Right now, MSU seems to be regressing.
I hate to invoke the term, but right now, MSU is a front-running team. If they start strong and get out to a big lead, then they are fine. But, if any sort of game pressure is applied to MSU late in the game, they have not shown the ability to respond. I am ashamed to say that in the final 4 minutes of the game against Penn State, I had little to no confidence that MSU was going to pull it out. For me, they lost the benefit of the doubt. They need to prove to me that they can win in winning time. This is the view of the pessimistic side of my brain.
But, I am an optimist. While MSU is currently in a funk, there are some potential explanations. First, MSU just finished playing their 4th consecutive Big Ten game on only 2 days rest. Several other Big Ten teams have 3-game stretches of short rest, but no other Big Ten team this year has a 4 game stretch. Also, the majority of the team seems to be recovering from or suffering through the flu right now. Neither of those factors will continue in the long term. Right now, MSU is also getting every team’s best shot. As MSU collects losses and in general as the season moves on, this will also be less and less of an issue.
In addition, we have seen Izzo teams go through a similar funk in late January or early February before. Most of the time, they power through it. I still like the potential on this team a lot, and I still think it is more likely than not that this team will get their crap together. The only question is whether it will be too little, too late to hang a banner.
The schedule from here on out is not very forgiving. But, maybe that is just what the doctor ordered. I feel like this team needs to play with a bit of a underdog mentality. Considering the math shows that they are no longer the favorite, I suppose that is exactly where they are now. Now, they need to play like the underdog every night.
At the beginning of the current 5-game stretch, I said that MSU needed to go 3-2 to tread water. They are currently 0-2 in that stretch. The next three games (@ Michigan, @ Illinois, and vs. Maryland) present an opportunity. If MSU wants to get back into the Big Ten race, they have a great chance over the next 2 weeks. If MSU can somehow win those 3 games, they will vault right back to the front of the class. That all starts Saturday afternoon in Ann Arbor. MSU needs to win that game... for so many reasons.
In the mean time, there is also a huge game on Friday night as Maryland travels to Illinois. My calculations show that the result of this game actually do not impact MSU’s odds very much at all, but in general I can say that an Illinois win (as the lower ranked home team) would bump MSU’s odds up slightly, which a Maryland win has almost no impact. Go Illlini.
That is all for today. Until next time, enjoy, and Go Green.