It has been a pretty tough week, hasn’t it Michigan State fans?
A week ago, Michigan State was projected to win almost 14 conference games. My simulations gave the Spartans close to a one-in-four chance to win or share the Big Ten title. The Green and White were also one of only a handful of teams with the combination of offensive and defensive efficiency that was consistent with former NCAA champions. Life was good.
But, in New Jersey, Michigan State ran into a very hot shooting Scarlet Knights squad. Against Wisconsin, the Spartans looked listless and were ice cold from the field. Michigan State has now lost two games in a row, three of the last five contests and four of the last seven overall.
How much has this mid-season skid impacted the trajectory of Michigan State’s season? Let’s dive into the numbers.
Enhanced Big Ten Standings and Updated Odds
Table 1 gives the updated enhanced Big Ten standings as of Feb. 11. Note that all the changes in value are relative to last week’s full update, just before the loss to Rutgers.
Despite the disastrous week for the Spartans, Michigan State is still just a game out of first place in the loss column. Furthermore, the two teams tied for first place — Illinois and Wisconsin — are currently grading out as two of the “luckiest” teams in the conference. There is a school of thought that both teams are due for an unexpected loss.
That said, Michigan State is now also only “plus two” in the plus/minus metric as the two home losses are partially offsetting the four road victories. Rutgers is only a half-game behind the Spartans, and Michigan is now less than a tenth of a point behind Michigan State in adjusted efficiency margin. Just 12 days ago, the Wolverines seemed likely to miss the postseason altogether.
In other words, the Spartans are currently playing more like a bubble team than a team that can play in the second week of the NCAA Tournament.
The updated Big Ten win distribution matrix is shown below in Table 2.
Michigan State’s expected conference win total has dropped by almost two games down to just 11.96, which suggests a final record of 12-8 is now most likely. A record of 14-6 or better now has odds of just 13 percent, while getting to a record of 15-5 or better now has odds below three percent.
Table 3 below gives the updated odds to at least share the Big Ten regular season title as of Feb. 11.
At mid-week, Purdue appeared to have taken command of the Big Ten race following a convincing win over Illinois. But, on Thursday night, the Boilermakers laid an egg against Michigan in Ann Arbor to the benefit of their competition. The Illini are back on top of the odds table with just above a 50 percent chance to at least share the regular season title. Purdue and Wisconsin have similar odds at close to 40 percent.
Ohio State and Michigan State are the only other teams with odds currently over one percent. While the Spartans’ current odds of just three percent look low (and they are), they are twice as high as they were before the Purdue loss.
The Boilermakers’ loss also increased the odds that the eventual champion will finish with a record no better than 15-5. The odds are basically 50-50 that any team surpasses 15 wins. The overall math suggests that if the Spartans can rally and somehow win seven of the final eight games, there is a 66 percent chance that the regular season will end with a banner being raised to the rafters in the Breslin center.
Big Ten Tournament and Strengths of Schedule
If the season ended today, that would be weird, because there are still 52 Big Ten games left on the full schedule. Fortunately, we can use projected point spreads and simulations to get a sneak peek on how the Big Ten Tournament seeding might play out. Table 4 below summarizes the odds for each team to earn each seed.
The most likely Big Ten Tournament seed for the Spartans is currently the No. 5 seed, and right now there is only a 28 percent chance that Michigan State will move back up into the top-four and reserve a double-bye.
What is even more troubling is that if all of the favorites were to win all 52 remaining Big Ten games, MSU would wind up tied with Michigan as 12-8 and the Wolverines would win the tiebreaker due to their win over Purdue. MSU would then slide down to the No. 6 seed.
Table 5 below gives the odds for each Big Ten team to advance in the Big Ten tournament.
The odds of a regular season championship are fading. At this point it is twice as likely that Michigan State would earn a banner for winning the Big Ten Tournament than for the regular season title.
Figure 1 below provides an update on the Big Ten strength of schedule data.
Despite being only a game back in the loss column from first place, Figure 1 helps to explain Michigan State’s very long odds for a Big Ten title. Not only has MSU’s efficiency decreased (which reduces our faith in the Spartans’ ability to win any of the remaining games), Michigan State has the third most difficult remaining conference schedule. An average Power Five team would be expected to win just over half of the Spartans’ remaining games.
By contrast, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Purdue, Iowa and Illinois are all now in the bottom half of the conference for schedule difficulty. The good news for Michigan State is that the Spartans will have a chance to hand four of those five teams a loss before the end of the year (with Wisconsin being the exception).
Michigan State’s Kenpom Trajectory and Remaining Schedule
Figure 2 below provides an update to the Kenpom efficiency scatter plot, the format of which has been explained previously.
Perhaps nothing shows the dramatic turn that Michigan State’s season has taken more clearly than Figure 2. The loss at Rutgers caused the Spartans’ defensive efficiency to drop by almost two points per hundred possessions. The loss to Wisconsin pushed down both offensive and defensive efficiency.
For several weeks, the 2022 Spartans had a profile that closely resembled the 2010 Final Four team. As of today, the team’s profile now more closely resembles that of either the 2002 team or the 2017 team, neither of which escaped from the first weekend.
Finally, Figure 3 below gives an overview of MSU’s remaining Big Ten games, including projected point spreads and win probabilities for the final eight contests on the schedule.
From a big-picture point of view, Michigan State is still projected to be favored in four of the final eight games. That said, the odds of each individual win are now depressed due to the Spartans’ depressing performance of late. As the Spartans’ current record of 8-4 and current expected win total of 11.93 suggest, four more wins is also mathematically the most likely.
That all said, there is still room for optimism. All of my calculations assume that the Spartans will play only as well going forward as their average performance would suggest to this point in the season. We have all seen that this team can play better than it did last week. In fact, history suggests that the Spartans will play better as we enter the home stretch of the Big Ten season.
That all starts with today’s contest with Indiana. If the Spartans can beat the Hoosiers and find a way to beat Penn State on the road on Tuesday, the team will be sitting exactly where I predicted they would be two weeks ago. At that point, my prediction was that MSU would still be competing for a Big Ten championship in the final week of the season.
But as I like to say, probability is not destiny. Just because past MSU teams rebounded in mid-February does not mean that this one will. That is why we play the games.
That is all for today. Until next time, enjoy, and Go State, beat the Hoosiers!