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Big Ten Hoops Odds Update (A win is a win)

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Michigan State finally got into the win column at Nebraska. Have the prospects for the rest of the season improved? Let’s check the #math

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Nebraska Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Howdy, folks! I have good news. So far Michigan State basketball is undefeated in 2021. While the win at Nebraska was not as pretty as we would have liked, a win is a win, and it feels good to get one in the win column. Not very many other games have been played since the last odds update, but I wanted to update the data quickly prior to MSU’s next game versus Rutgers on Tuesday night, starting with the standings and current conference odds.

Current Standings and Odds Update

As usual, here are the updated enhanced Big Ten standings as of 01/04/2021

Table 1: Enhanced Big Ten standings for 01/04/2021

MSU is now at least out of the basement and is back at zero in the plus/minus category due to the road win at Nebraska. Note that the road team has only won nine of the 30 Big Ten games so far, so this is a bit significant. MSU’s “luck” also improved a bit with the win over the Huskers.

At the top of the standings are the Michigan Wolverines at 4-0. The Wolverines have also crept into the top-10 in Kenpom and are the only team in the Big Ten both with no losses and with two road wins, albeit against Nebraska and Maryland, who are a combined 1-7. Michigan is also second only to Northwestern in overall “luck” so far in Big Ten play and have yet to play a team in the top-45 of Kenpom (#shade).

Table 2 below gives the updated Big Ten win matrix.

Table 2: Big Ten win distribution matrix for 01/04/2021

MSU’s expected win total ticked up slightly to 7.45, but the overall position and situation is virtually unchanged. The Spartans still project to most likely go 7-13 in conference play. MSU’s odds to get to at least .500 also ticked up only slightly from 16.8 percent to 18.2 percent. Baby steps.

Table 3 below shows the updated Big Ten regular season title odds.

Table 3: Big Ten regular season championship odds as of 01/04/2021

The overall conference race is a virtual dead-heat between Illinois (31 percent odds to finish at least tied for first place), Michigan (29 percent), Iowa (28 percent) and Wisconsin (27 percent). Rutgers and Minnesota are both in the next pack with odds around five percent, followed by a group of three teams (Ohio State, Indiana, and Purdue) with odds just over one percent.

As for MSU, the odds to win a Big Ten title are essentially unchanged (and still awful) at 0.15 percent or 1-in-700. This is actually a slight decrease from last week, but that may be within the error of the calculation.

Strength of Schedule Update

Figure 1 below gives the updated overall strengths of schedule for all 14 Big Ten schools.

Figure 1: Updated Big Ten strengths of schedule

This figure has changed very little as Purdue and Illinois both have the easiest overall conference schedule with Wisconsin and Michigan not far behind. MSU’s schedule is still the fifth most difficult overall, about a half-of-a-game more difficult than the conference’s easiest schedule.

Figure 2: Big Ten remaining schedule strengths as of 01/04/2021

Figure 2 above shows the schedule strengths only considering the remaining games. Purdue is a clear leader here with a three-and-a-half percentage point lead over the second place team, Minnesota. Illinois has a notably easier remaining schedule compared to the other main competitors, namely Iowa, Wisconsin, and especially Michigan. Unfortunately, MSU’s remaining schedule is also the fifth most difficult.

Big Ten Tournament Projection

If the season ended today, that would be weird, because only 30 total Big Ten games have been played and the teams have not played the same number of games. That said, it is possible to make projections about the Big Ten tournament based on the simulated results. Table 4 below provides that update.

Table 4: Big Ten Tournament seed matrix for 01/04/2021

Once again, the update is pretty status quo (and bad) for the Spartans, who I still project as the No. 13 seed. The only bright spot is that the odds of moving up out of the first round of the Big Ten Tournament are now at 38 percent, which is up four points from the last update.

MSU’s Current Position and Upcoming Schedule

Following MSU’s win at Nebraska, I have updated the Kenpom scatter plot to show the current position of MSU relative to past MSU teams, previous champions, and the current field of national contenders.

Figure 3: Updated Kenpom efficiency scatter plot showing the trajectory of the current MSU season, past MSU teams, past NCAA champions, and current contenders

The win in Lincoln improved MSU’s offensive efficiency slightly, but the defensive efficiency continues to slide. As a result, the Spartans’ efficiency margin remained essentially unchanged. As of today, the profile of the current MSU team matches that of the 2017 team almost exactly. That team finished 10-8 in conference play, made the tournament as a No. 9 seed, and beat No. 8 seed Miami before losing in the second round to No. 1 seed Kansas.

As for the potential contenders, Gonzaga and Baylor are still the clear favorites to cut down the nets in April, but teams like Villanova, Wisconsin, Texas, and Illinois also fit the profile of past champions. The remaining 12 teams in the “championship zone” of Figure 3 may be a threat, but 15 of the past 18 champions have entered the tournament with an overall efficiency margin over 23.9. Only the six teams listed above meet that criteria.

Finally, Figure 4 below gives the projected win probabilities for all of MSU’s remaining games.

Figure 4: Projected odds for MSU’s remaining regular season Big Ten games

There are no major changes since the New Year’s Day update as MSU only projects to be favored in three of the remaining games (versus Purdue, Nebraska, and Penn State). However, several games are still near toss-ups, which is why MSU’s expected win total is slightly over seven.

If the initial goal is simply to get to 10-10 in conference play, the next two home games against Rutgers and Purdue are critical as the rest of the month looks very challenging. Right now, the Spartans need to find a way to win at least two of the three upcoming home games against Rutgers, Purdue, and Indiana (expected win total equals 1.43).

For the rest of the month, the odds suggest that MSU more likely than not should be able to steal at least a single win in the group of games that includes the contests at Iowa, versus Illinois, at Rutgers, and at Ohio State (expected win total equals 1.11). MSU then needs to also beat Nebraska again as play in February begins.

Adding this all up suggests that a slightly optimistic record of 5-7 following the second game with the Cornhuskers is still reasonable even if the team does not see a major improvement. If MSU can beat this record, then things will be moving in a positive direction. If not, then the scary numbers that are shown above are more likely to be close to reality by the end of the season.

That said, they all count one and the next game is always the most important game on the schedule. That game is Rutgers. Let’s hope that MSU can string together two wins in a row and start to right the ship as we steam towards March.

That is all for today. As always, enjoy, and Go State, Beat Rutgers!