Breathe, Michigan State fans.
The emotional rollercoaster that is Michigan State men’s basketball continues to chug along. Up until February, the Spartans seemed poised to challenge for yet another Big Ten title. But then the bottom dropped out to the extent that there were whispers that Michigan State was attempting to play itself onto the NCAA Tournament bubble.
On Saturday, Michigan State appeared sharp and focused for the first time in weeks, and the Spartans led the Big Ten Conference-leading Purdue Boilermakers for almost the entire game. In the final minute, it looked as though the bottom might drop out again. Fortunately, Tyson Walker had other plans, and the Spartans emerged with a desperately needed, possibly season-changing, victory.
In times like these, it is important to remember that a team is seldom as bad as its last big loss (such as at Iowa) and seldom as good as its last big win (such as versus Purdue). The truth is likely somewhere in the middle. That said, it certainly was nice to see the Spartans flying around on defense, playing with passion, making shots and earning the victory on Saturday.
The question now is whether the Spartans are once again on the rise and building toward a traditional March surge, or if the win over Purdue was simply a temporary blip. Either way, with 10 Big Ten wins now secured and another high-quality win on the resume, I am confident that Michigan State will be breathing easy on Selection Sunday. MSU is now playing just to get better and to try to improve its seeding for both the NCAA Tournament and Big Ten Tournament.
With just one week of conference play remaining, let’s take a quick look at the current Big Ten race and how it will impact Michigan State’s postseason.
The Big Ten Race
Tables 1 and 2 below show the enhanced Big Ten standings and the updated odds for the Big Ten regular season race.
Michigan State is currently in a tie with Iowa for fifth place in the conference. Rutgers is a half-game back and Michigan is a full game back of the Spartans and Hawkeyes.
As for the race for the regular season title, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo should expect a nice fruit basket in the mail from fellow head coach Greg Gard and the Wisconsin Badgers, as Michigan State’s win over Purdue this weekend all but sealed a championship in Madison. Wisconsin just needs one more win to secure the title.
Wisconsin can earn at least a share of the title if the Badgers can beat Purdue at home on Tuesday night. If this happens, Wisconsin will almost certainly claim a solo title, as the Badgers close out the season with a home game against cellar-dwellers Nebraska on Sunday.
If Purdue beats Wisconsin, the Boilermakers will earn a share of the title with a win against rival Indiana on Saturday. Illinois can also earn a share of the conference title if the Illini can win the team’s final two home games against Penn State and Iowa this week.
Michigan State’s Final Stretch
With just three games remaining, the projected point spreads and win probabilities for the Spartans are as follows:
- Tuesday, March 1: Michigan State (+3.5) at Michigan. Odds to win = 36.5%
- Thursday, March 3: Michigan State (+5.5) at Ohio State. Odds to win = 29.3%
- Sunday, March 6: Maryland at Michigan State (-7.4). Odds to win = 76.8%
The resulting odds for any final record between 10-10 and 13-7 is then summarized below in the Big Ten win matrix.
Michigan State’s current expected conference win total is 11.43, which means that it is close to 50-50 as to whether the Spartans will win 12 games or more. The math actually says that the ratio is 45-to-55. Another way to look at this data is that a final record of 11-9 is the most likely single result (44.4 percent), but the odds to finish with a record of 12-8 or 13-7 is almost identical (45.1 percent).
Big Ten Tournament Breakdown
With the regular season winding down, the focus for the final week will be almost entirely on positioning for the Big Ten Tournament. As of Tuesday morning, there are 15 regular season games remaining, which implies that there are still 32,768 potential outcomes. Table 4 below summarizes the updated Big Ten Tournament seeds matrix, including the odds of Michigan State’s first tournament opponent.
Based on the results over the weekend, Michigan State’s position has improved noticeably. The Spartans are projecting as the No. 6 or the No. 7 seed. In addition, the most likely first round opponent for Michigan State is now Maryland (32 percent) with Penn State (19 percent), Indiana (16 percent) and Northwestern (11 percent) as the next most likely.
With only three games remaining, there are only eight total scenarios left for the Spartans. In one of those scenarios, Michigan State wins out to finish at 13-7 in the Big Ten Conference. In another scenario, the Spartans lose out to finish at 10-10. There are then three ways each to finish the regular season at 11-9 and 12-8.
I ran an additional set of simulations on each of these eight scenarios to better understand Michigan State’s final placement in the Big Ten Tournament. Table 5 summarizes the results of these simulations.
As Table 5 shows, Michigan State’s final record should be a clear indicator of the Spartans’ Big Ten Tournament seed. If Michigan State wins out, there is a very good chance that the Spartans will sneak back into the top-four of the conference and be able to earn the coveted double-bye. In this scenario, Michigan State would finish in no worse than a tie with Ohio State and would also own the head-to-head tiebreaker. That said, the Spartans’ most likely first opponent in Indianapolis would then be No. 5 seed Ohio State.
The only way for the Spartans to slip to the No. 5 or No. 6 seed is if Iowa wins out (including road wins at both Michigan and Illinois). So, in order for Michigan State to maximize the possible seed, it is reasonable for MSU fans to root against Iowa.
If Michigan State can win two of the final three games to finish 12-8, the Spartans will most likely earn the No. 6 seed. The most likely way for this to occur would be for Michigan State to beat Michigan and Maryland, but to lose to Ohio State in Columbus. In this scenario, both Iowa and Rutgers are problematic from a tie-breaker point of view. Rutgers travels to Indiana on Wednesday night. A win by the home team would help MSU for seeding purposes.
If the Spartans are only able to win one of the final three games and finish at just 11-9, the No. 7 seed in the Big Ten Tournament will be the most likely result. In many of these scenarios, the Spartans end up either behind or in a tie with Rutgers and Iowa in the final standings. Michigan State is 0-2 against those teams head-to-head this year and thus the tiebreakers would not help the Green and White.
Finally, if the Spartans somehow fail to win any more games this regular season, the No. 8 seed becomes the most likely outcome. Hopefully, it will not come to that.
That is all for today. Until next time, enjoy, and let’s get that win over the Wolverines tonight. Go Green.