For better or worse, the final weekend of the Big Ten men’s basketball regular season is upon us. It goes without saying this has been another tough week for the Michigan State Spartans. The men in Green and White followed up their thrilling upset win over No. 4 Purdue last weekend with two listless, double-digit road losses to Michigan and to Ohio State.
At one point this season, the Spartans were 17-4 overall, 8-2 in conference play, and ranked in the top-15 of the country. Since then, Michigan State has lost seven of the last nine games and has drifted to the middle of the conference standings.
While a mid-season slump is not uncommon in East Lansing, a month-long slide is certainly unusual. The Spartans have shown the ability to play with, and even beat, top-10-caliber teams. However, consistent and sustained effort continues to be a problem. It is unclear if it will ever get fixed, even with a Hall-of-Fame head coach Tom Izzo on the bench.
So where does this leave Michigan State and what comes next? The Spartans will play the final regular season game on Sunday afternoon against the Maryland Terrapins at the Breslin Center. Next week Michigan State will travel to Indianapolis to compete in the Big Ten Tournament. Who will the Spartans face in Indy and when? Let’s break it all down in the final odds update of the season.
Status of the Big Ten race
Table 1 gives the updated enhanced Big Ten standings as of March 5, with only seven total Big Ten games remaining.
With both Michigan and Michigan State losing on Thursday night, the intrastate rivals are tied in the standings in seventh place.
Wisconsin has already claimed at least a share of the regular season Big Ten title. Illinois can sneak into a tie for first place if the Illini can beat Iowa on Sunday and if Nebraska is somehow able to upset Wisconsin in Madison.
As the postseason approaches, note that Wisconsin is grading out as exceedingly lucky (+4.17 wins), as is (to a lesser extent) Rutgers (+2.83) and Illinois (+1.85). Conversely, Purdue (-0.41) and Iowa (-1.85) are both rather unlucky. It will be interesting to see if those programs regress to the mean in the coming weeks. Also note that both Michigan and Michigan State are close to neutral in the luck category.
Big Ten Tournament Breakdown
While there are still a few questions to be answered, the final seeding for the Big Ten Tournament is coming into focus. Table 2 below summarizes the odds for each Big Ten team to earn each seed.
Even though there are just two days left in the regular season, there are still 128 possible season outcomes and 88 unique final Big Ten Tournament brackets. But there are several facts that are now settled:
- The top-three seeds will be Wisconsin, Illinois and Purdue
- Seeds No. 4 to No. 6 will be Ohio State, Iowa and Rutgers
- Michigan and Michigan State will be the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds
- Indiana is locked into the No. 9 seed
- Penn State and Maryland will be the No. 10 and No. 11 seeds
- Northwestern is locked into the No. 12 seed
- Minnesota and Nebraska will be the No. 13 and No. 14 seeds
Based on the projected point spreads for the games to be played this weekend, it is straightforward to define the scenarios and odds for each Big Ten team. Table 3 summarizes the remaining scenarios for Michigan State.
The fate of the Spartans rests on the results of only three of the seven games this weekend. In half of the scenarios, Michigan and Michigan State finish the season in a tie with either 10 or 11 wins. Those two teams split their regular season matchups, but Michigan State generally wins the tiebreaker with the Wolverines due to the Spartans’ split with Wisconsin and sole win over Purdue.
As a result, Michigan State will wind up with the No. 7 seed in most cases as long as Michigan State beats Maryland or if Michigan loses at Ohio State. The only exception to this rule is if both Michigan schools win and Penn State upsets Rutgers to force a three-way tie for sixth place between Michigan State, Michigan and Rutgers.
In this scenario, Michigan State’s sole loss at Rutgers (combined with Michigan’s split with the Scarlet Knights) changes the tiebreaker such that the Spartans would fall to the No. 8 seed. In all cases, if Michigan State earns the No. 7 seed, Michigan gets the No. 8 seed and vice versa.
Table 3 also summarizes Michigan State’s first round opponent in each of the eight scenarios. The most likely result (71 percent odds) is that the Spartans will face No. 7 seed Maryland on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. There is a very good chance that the Spartans will have to play the same team twice over a span of five days. If Michigan State wins on Sunday, this would mean that the Spartans need to beat the same team (Maryland) three times in a year, which is seldom easy.
If this does not sound appealing, root for Penn State on Sunday. If the Nittany Lions upset Rutgers, the Spartans will instead draw Penn State or Indiana in the first game of the Big Ten Tournament in three of those four scenarios.
On paper, the fifth scenario in Table 3 where Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State all win looks the most appealing. That said, I would accept the argument that rooting for Michigan and Penn State might make sense, as it would drop Michigan State to the No. 8 seed to face No. 9 Indiana at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday.
While the optics of dropping down a seed might seem bad, this would most likely place Michigan State in the same part of the bracket as Wisconsin and in the opposite part of the bracket as Illinois and Purdue. While the Badgers will most likely win the Big Ten outright, I personally believe that Wisconsin would be a softer draw on Friday than either the Boilermakers or the Illini. Kenpom data supports this argument.
That said, if MSU secures the No. 7 seed and No. 8 goes to Michigan, there is a solid probability that Juwan Howard (assuming he is reinstated from his suspension for the conference tournament) will once again meet up with Wisconsin on Friday at 11:30 a.m. The intrigue around that rematch would make for good television.
Let’s now break down the rest of the tournament seeding scenarios, starting with the top-three seeds.
Wisconsin will earn the No. 1 seed if it can beat Nebraska on Sunday, or if Iowa upsets Illinois. Purdue is headed for the No. 3 seed unless Iowa beats Illinois and the Boilers can handle Indiana at home on Saturday. Illinois can still theoretically earn the No. 1 seed, No. 2 seed or No. 3 seed based on scenarios in the table above.
Table 5 below shows the scenarios for the No. 4 to the No. 6 seed.
Illinois, Ohio State and Rutgers are all playing at home on Sunday and will all be favored. Thus, the most likely outcome is that all three teams will win, which would result in Ohio State securing the No. 4 seed, Rutgers getting the No. 5 seed and Iowa sliding down to the No. 6 seed.
That said, there is less than a 30 percent chance that all three teams avoid an upset. Of the remaining seven scenarios, four of them result in Iowa claiming the No. 4 seed, Ohio State getting the No. 5 seed, and Rutgers falling to the No. 6 seed.
Tables 5 and 6 show the scenarios for the No. 10, No. 11, No. 13 and No. 14 seeds, which are much more straightforward.
As mentioned above, Maryland is in line to claim the No. 10 seed if the Terrapins upset Michigan State or as long as Rutgers beats Penn State. As for the bottom-two seeds, Minnesota gets the No. 13 seed and Nebraska gets the No. 14 seed unless the Cornhuskers upset Wisconsin and the Gophers lose at Northwestern.
Finally, regardless of which of the 88 possible Big Ten Tournament brackets winds up coming to pass, Table 8 below gives the simulated odds for the results of the Big Ten Tournament, considering the properly weighted odds of all 88 potential tournaments.
Despite the fact that Purdue is most likely going to be the No. 3 seed and that Iowa may not even earn a double-bye, those two teams project to have the best odds to win the Big Ten Tournament at 29 percent and 22 percent, respectively. These odds are based on the projected point spreads derived from Kenpom efficiencies, which are historically fairly accurate.
As for the Spartans, the math currently gives Michigan State only a three percent chance to claim the Big Ten Tournament Title.
That is all for today. As always, enjoy and Go State, beat the Terrapins!