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Big Ten Hoops Odds Update: Michigan State Spartans Rising

Michigan State just beat two top ten teams in a three-day span. Is an NCAA Tournament bid now within reach?

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Michigan State Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Another day, another win over a top-five opponent! Less than a week ago, Michigan State’s odds to make the Tournament were around 10 percent, at best. But now that the Spartans have racked up three straight high-quality wins, the world is suddenly a much different place.

How much did the win over the Buckeye boost the Spartans’ chances? Today I wanted to provide yet another abridged Big Ten odds update, starting with the Big Ten win distribution show below in Table 1:

Table 1: Big Ten win distribution matrix as of Feb 26, 2021

For the first time in weeks, Michigan State’s expected win total is now over eight wins, which I believe is clearly the threshold to get back into the bubble conversation. The odds that MSU can reach that threshold are now at 73 percent. The odds to get to 9-11 or better stand at 27 percent. If you want to dream bigger, the odds to get back to .500 are now at four percent.

As always, the numbers above are derived from Kenpom efficiency data, which can be used to project the points spreads and odds for MSU’s upcoming games. The projects spreads and odds for the four games left on the schedule are:

  • MSU (+5) at Maryland: 31 percent
  • Indiana at MSU (even): 49 percent
  • MSU (+14) at Michigan: 8 percent
  • Michigan at MSU (+10.5): 15 percent

While Michigan State is projected to be a slight underdog or even in the next two games, with MSU’s current momentum, you have to feel good about MSU chances, fatigue notwithstanding. As for the pair of games against Michigan, right now the math says MSU has a 22 percent chance to at least split that series.

As for the Big Ten Tournament, the odds are improving for MSU to escape play on the opening day by earning a top-10 seed. Table 2 below shows the current odds for each team to earn each seed.

Table 2: Big Ten Tournament Seeding odds as of Feb 26, 2021

With Indiana, Minnesota, and Penn State fading down the stretch, MSU has now moved into 10th place in this table with over a 56 percent chance to earn at least the No. 10 seed. That said, the No. 11 seed is the single most likely seed for MSU. In the scenarios where MSU beats Indiana, the odds to get at least the No. 10 seed rise to 85 percent. If I put all of this data together with the historical Kenpom data, I have an update for my NCAA Tournament streak dashboard:

Figure 1: MSU’s tournament streak dashboard, based on selected performance metrics

Three of the four main metrics now suggest that MSU has over a 50 percent chance to make the NCAA Tournament. Note that MSU’s odds to win the Big Ten Tournament are still extremely low. In this case, I even set the Spartans as the No. 10 seed to see how much of a difference that makes. It does not move the needle by much.

That said, I will throw just a little bit of cold water on this analysis. First, of the four main metrics shown in Figure 1, the lowest one, Kenpom ranking, might be more predictive. While MSU’s current efficiency margin is pretty solid, the fact remains that the Tournament can only accommodate 68 total teams, so a ranking is a better measure of the number of teams that MSU is competing with for a Tournament spot.

Furthermore, as for the odds of MSU getting to 8-12 or earning a top-10 seed in Big Ten Tournament, the fact also remains that MSU will likely need to win at least one game in the Big Ten Tournament. MSU’s first game will likely also be somewhat of a toss-up, which suggest the actual odds are half of what is shown in the Figure, which also is consistent with the odds suggested by the Kenpom ranking.

But, MSU is also playing better now than the Kenpom efficiency margin numbers might suggest. So, my gut says that 50-50 odds sound just about right. While MSU’s current NET rating of No. 68 is also very underwhelming, the Spartans do have five high-quality “quad one” wins, which is more than all but 13 other teams.

At the end of the day, while the Spartans still need to win a few more games, extending the current NCAA Tournament streak is now very much in MSU’s grasp.