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Michigan State basketball quick odds update: after the blowout

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Saturday’s game did not go well in Piscataway. Let’s survey the aftermath.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Once again, I feel the need to say that I did warn you, Michigan State fans. The first week of February is rarely smooth in East Lansing, and Michigan State’s loss to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Saturday is merely the latest data point in a trend line that extends at least a decade into the past. The “Bermuda triangle” struck again, this time on the Jersey Shore.

With the loss, the Spartans are a half-game out of second place in the updated Big Ten standings, as shown below in Table 1. Based on the loss column and the plus/minus metric, the Spartans are just one game back, with multiple contests remaining against the other current conference title contenders.

Table 1: Enhanced Big Ten standings as of Feb. 7, 2021

That said, the loss to Rutgers certainly had a major impact on the Spartans’ prospects of claiming yet another Big Ten regular season title. Not only did the blowout add another costly loss to the conference record, but the magnitude of the loss has both shaken the confidence of the Michigan State faithful and negatively impacted the Spartans’ overall efficiency.

In other words, neither the fans nor the computers view Michigan State in quite the same way that they did prior to Saturday’s game. More quantitatively, Table 1 below shows the updated Big Ten win distribution matrix.

Table 2: Updated Big Ten expected wins and win distribution matrix as of Feb. 7.

Michigan State’s expected win total is down over a full game to 12.8, which is only fifth-best in the league. This means that the Spartans’ most likely final record is 13-7. The math now suggests that Michigan State has a 31 percent chance to post a final record of 14-6 or better and a 12 percent chance of finishing with a record of 15-5 or better.

As for the updated odds to at least share the regular season Big Ten title, those odds are shown below in Table 3.

Table 3: Updated odds to win or share the Big Ten title and the win distributions for those winning team

All of the contenders other than Michigan State had a very solid weekend. As a result, Illinois and Purdue are at the head of the class and both teams have just over 50 percent odds to claim the title at the end of the year. Ohio State and Wisconsin are in a dead heat for second place with around 12 percent odds. The Spartans’ odds tumbled to just seven percent.

The bad news is that the math suggests that there is now almost a 75 percent chance that a record of 16-4, or better, will be needed to win the regular season conference title. The Spartans most likely have only a single mulligan left unless they get a little help and hope that the upset gremlin bites some of the other contenders in the next month.

The good news is that Michigan State still has one game remaining versus all of the conference contenders. The Spartans are still very much in control of their own destiny. Also, while history shows that the Spartans tend to struggle in early February, they also tend to come on strong in mid-to-late February. It would not be strange at all for the Spartans to overachieve, relative to the expected win total, for the rest of the season.

So, while the loss to Rutgers certainly stings, there is still room for optimism.

As for some of the other metrics that I track, I will simply summarize the updated numbers briefly until the next full update later in the week.

  • Michigan State now projects as the No. 5 seed in the Big Ten Tournament with almost exactly a 50 percent chance to earn a top-four seed and double-bye
  • Michigan State’s remaining schedule is now the third-most difficult in the Big Ten. Illinois’ remaining schedule ranks No. 5 and Purdue’s ranks No. 7 in difficulty.
  • The Spartans’ defensive efficiency took a nosedive with the loss to Rutgers, and as a result, their metrics are no longer consistent with past national champions.