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Michigan State Basketball Odds Update: White-Knuckle Ride

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The Spartans squandered a golden opportunity on Sunday at Maryland to virtually solidify a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Where does Michigan State stand now? Let’s check the math.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

After quite a bit of analysis over the last few days, I had come to a pretty simple conclusion regarding Michigan State’s NCAA Tournament odds. I felt that if MSU were to win just two more games, including any game in the Big Ten Tournament over a team seeded No. 10 and above, then the Spartans’ NCAA Tournament streak will continue.

Had MSU been able to rally and beat Maryland on Sunday, I would have felt quite confident that we would be seeing the name “Michigan State” appear on the board on Selection Sunday. But now? There is still quite a bit of uncertainty. The rest of the season will likely be a white-knuckle ride all the way to March 14.

This week’s game against flailing Indiana is about as close to a “must win” contest as I can remember in the last 20 years of MSU basketball. First of all, I think that it is critical that the Spartans get to at least eight wins in conference play to remain on the bubble. We would all sleep much, much easier getting to that number before the season ending home-at-home series with the Michigan Wolverines.

Second, the home game with Indiana may likely be the last non-quad-one game on Michigan State’s schedule, including the Big Ten Tournament. (Note that “quad-one” refers to the NET ranking of the opponent, which is adjusted based on the location of the game. A “quad-one” game involves an opponent in the top 30 of the NET if the game is at home, the top 50 if the game is at a neutral site, and top 75 if it is a road game.)

One of the major advantages that Michigan State has right now over other bubble teams is very low number of “bad,” non-quad-one losses. Losing to Indiana (currently ranked No. 59 in the NET) would be the second worse loss on MSU’s scheduled, behind the loss to the Northwestern Wildcats (No. 87 in the NET).

Quick Odds Update

But, before we worry about Indiana, let’s take another quick look at the abridged Big Ten odds, starting with the enhanced Big Ten standings and Big Ten win distribution show below in Tables 1 and 2:

Table 1: Enhance Big Ten standings as of March 1, 2021
Table 2: Big Ten win distribution matrix as of March 1, 2021

With the loss at Maryland, MSU’s expected win total is down to 7.65, meaning that it is only slightly better than a coin toss that the Spartans make it to eight wins. More precisely, the odds are 56 percent that MSU wins at least eight game and about nine percent that the Spartans make it up to nine wins or more.

Also note from the enhanced standings that MSU has now skyrocketed up to second place in the luck metric at +1.16, which is not far behind the University of Michigan’s luck rating of +1.55. Based on MSU’s overall performance, the Spartans now have one more win than their overall efficiency would suggest.

This could be interpreted that MSU really should be sitting at 6-11 right now, and the success over the past week was more fool’s gold than reality. The other interpretation is that MSU is cycling up (although not linearly) and that MSU’s average efficiency on the year is not indicative of its actual ability. Tuesday night we might learn which story is closer to reality.

Note also that Michigan’s odds to win the Big Ten title are now at 99.9 percent. There is only one scenario where Illinois would claim the title and that is the one where Illinois wins out (by beating Michigan in Ann Arbor on Tuesday and then Ohio State in Columbus on Saturday) and Michigan were to also lose out. Personally, I would love to help the Wolverines out with that second part.

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 projected spreads and odds for the three games left on the schedule are:

  • Indiana at MSU (even): 48 percent
  • MSU (+15.5) at Michigan: 6 percent
  • Michigan at MSU (+12): 12 percent

Right now, my math suggests that Indiana should be less than a point of a favorite in East Lansing, but the game is essentially a toss-up. That said, the actual line seems to have opened with MSU as a four-point favorite, which puts MSU’s odds to beat Indiana at closer to 65 percent. That feels a bit closer to the truth.

As for the two games against Michigan, the odds are slightly worse than the last update. The math suggests that Michigan State only has about a one-in-six chance to avoid the sweep at the hand of the Skunkbears.

Big Ten Tournament Projections

If there was any good news from this weekend, it is that the odds that MSU can earn at least the No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament actually improved since the win over Ohio State. The updated seeding odds are shown below in Table 3.

Table 3: Big Ten Tournament seeding odds, as of March 1

I now calculate a 63 percent chance that MSU can skip the Wednesday session at the Big Ten Tournament with the No. 10 seed or better. The odds of either a No. 9 or No. 10 seed are virtually equal.

In addition, I performed a few extra simulations on the Big Ten Tournament seeding to take a look at MSU’s possible opponents. The overall matrix is shown below in Table 4.

Table 4: MSU’s Big Ten Tournament opponent scenarios

The single most likely scenario is for MSU to grab the No. 11 seed and face Nebraska on Wednesday. That would be a very, very bad outcome for MSU. Fortunately, the odds for MSU to earn the No. 9 or No. 10 seed are double those odds. If MSU gets the No. 10 seed, a rematch with Maryland is most likely on Thursday. If MSU get the No. 9 seed, then Rutgers is the most likely opponent. Interestingly, MSU’s odds to face Wisconsin are about 20 percent in both scenarios.

I also decided to break this down in a little more detail. If MSU does beat Indiana on Tuesday, here is what the updated odds and potential Big Ten Tournament matchups would look like:

Table 5: MSU’s Big Ten Tournament opponent scenarios IF MSU beat Indiana on Tuesday

In this case, the odds for MSU to avoid a game on Wednesday suddenly shoot up to over 95 percent. MSU would have a 65 percent chance to earn the No. 9 seed where the most likely opponent would be Rutgers (54 percent odds), with both Maryland (26 percent) and Wisconsin (19 percent) in play.

If MSU were to beat Rutgers on Thursday, the Spartans would most likely lock up a NCAA Tournament bid and as a reward get to face No. 1 Michigan on Friday for the third time in nine days.

Note that MSU could rise up to get the No. 7 seed and face Indiana or Minnesota if the Spartans win out, but the odds of that outcome are about 0.1 percent right now, so I did not show those potential opponents in the table.

If MSU were to lose to IU, the odds table then looks like this:

Table 6: MSU’s Big Ten Tournament opponent scenarios IF MSU loses to Indiana on Tuesday

In this scenario, MSU has only a 34 percent chance to avoid the Wednesday round in the Big Ten Tournament. In this case, the most likely outcome is for MSU to fall to the No. 11 seed and face Nebraska in that first round. A win there and the Spartans would face the No. 6 seed (likely Maryland or Wisconsin) on Thursday.

If Michigan State were to win that game, the Spartans would mostly draw No. 3 Iowa on Friday. If MSU loses out in the regular season, beating both Maryland/Wisconsin and then Iowa might be required to sneak into the NCAA Tournament.

However, the single most likely scenario still has MSU holding onto the No. 10 seed even if the Spartans lose out. If Penn State and Rutgers beat Minnesota and then Maryland beats Penn State (as the projected lines suggest will happen) then MSU would still be the No. 10 seed even if the Spartans finish at 7-13.

In this scenario, the Spartans would likely need to beat (most likely) No. 7 Maryland and then take out No. 2 Illinois on Friday to feel reasonably safe on Selection Sunday.

Tournament Dashboard

When I put all of this information together, I have my revised Tournament streak dashboard as shown in Figure 1:

Figure 1: MSU’s NCAA tournament streak dashboard for March 1, 2021

With the loss at Maryland and the subsequent drop in MSU’s Kenpom metrics, the odds in three of the four categories has dipped. However, the recent losing streaks from the Indiana Hoosier and Minnesota Golden Gophers have resulted in an uptick in the Spartans’ odds based on the Big Ten Tournament seeding, which I do believe does matter.

In total, while I am still optimistic that this team will find a way to get the job done, somehow, this dashboard tells me that MSU’s current odds are right at or near 50 percent right now. Once again, it looks like it is going to be a white-knuckle ride all the way to the finish line.

That is all for today, on this first day of the Month of Izzo, 2021. Let’s hope that it is a good one this year. Until next time, enjoy, and Go State, beat the Hoosiers!