When we last checked in on the overall mathematical status of the Michigan State Spartans men’s basketball season prospects, things were looking bleak. The Green and White seemed adrift in the late January and early February “Bermuda Triangle” after two straight losses at Rutgers and to Wisconsin. But, on Saturday in the Breslin Center, the Spartans seemed to find calmer waters in a convincing, 15-point win over Indiana.
In addition to Michigan State’s big win, there were a few other results over the weekend that seem to benefit the Spartans. Most importantly, Rutgers was able to upset Wisconsin in Madison on Saturday, which dropped the Badgers into a second-place tie with the Spartans in the Big Ten loss column. On Sunday, there were no upsets, but Illinois and especially Purdue had lackluster performances against Northwestern and Maryland, respectively.
What is the current status of the Big Ten race? Let’s start below with the updated enhanced Big Ten standings.
Illinois is still in the captain’s chair at the top of the standings with just three conference losses. Purdue, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State are effectively in a four-way tie for second place with four losses. That said, Ohio State may have the edge due to the Buckeyes’ “plus-four” metric (meaning that they have four more road wins than home losses) and the fact that the Buckeyes still own the easiest remaining conference schedule.
That said, the good news for the Spartans is that the loss by Wisconsin once again means that Michigan State controls its own destiny in the Big Ten race. If MSU wins out, the Spartans are guaranteed to at least share the Big Ten title.
The updated Big Ten win distribution matrix is shown below in Table 2.
The blow-out win over the Hoosiers on Saturday, and the associated bump in efficiency, resulted in an almost half-game improvement in Michigan State’s expected win total, which is now up to 12.44. The odds that the Spartans can get to a record of 13-7 or better are 48 percent. There is also a 20 percent chance that MSU will win at least 14 conference games and a five percent chance of at least 15 wins.
Table 3 below gives the updated odds to at least share the Big Ten regular season title as of Feb. 14.
The first thing to notice here is that the events of the weekend have doubled Michigan State’s Big Ten title odds from three percent to six percent. That is still not great, but it is progress. As expected, Illinois (61 percent) and Purdue (45 percent) have the best odds in the conference to win or share the regular season title.
There is another piece of more subtle data here that is worth mentioning. For the first time all season, the most likely final record of the eventual conference champion(s) has dropped to 15-5. Furthermore, a close inspection of the simulation results suggests that if Michigan State is able to win 15 games, there is a 75 percent chance that the regular season ends on a “banner day.”
The numbers suggest that this result is still a long shot, but the amount of overachievement needed (just two wins over expectation in the final seven games) would not be unprecedented.
As for the other metrics that I track, I will simply summarize the updated numbers briefly until the next full update later in the week.
- Michigan’s loss to Ohio State over the weekend knocked the Wolverines back down the list for Big Ten Tournament seeding. Michigan State is still in the unenviable position of projecting as the No. 5 seed, which would just miss out on a double-bye.
- The Spartans’ odds for a top-four seed and accompanying double-bye now stand at 36 percent. The odds for a Big Ten Tournament title have ticked up to eight percent.
- Michigan State currently holds the most challenging remaining conference schedule. An average Power Five team would be expected to win only 54 percent of MSU’s remaining games. In contrast, an average Power Five team would be expected to win almost 70 percent of the games on Ohio State’s remaining schedule (the easiest remaining slate).
- The point spread for Michigan State’s game on Tuesday night at Penn State is projecting to be -2.5 to -3.5, which translates to a 58 to 63 percent chance that the weather remains calm in the Spartans’ atmosphere and the team’s winning ways continue. [Author’s note: the actual spread has opened at -2.5, which once again shows how accurate Kenpom data can be in making these projections]
Michigan State and Penn State tip-off at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time on Tuesday night, and the game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network (BTN).
Other games to keep an eye on this week include Wisconsin at Indiana on Tuesday night (9 p.m. on ESPN2), Illinois at Rutgers on Wednesday night (7 p.m. on BTN) and Purdue at Northwestern, also on Wednesday night (9 p.m. also on BTN).
That is all for today. Until next time, enjoy, and Go State, beat the Lions!