Michigan State Men’s Basketball Big Ten Odds Update: The Doldrums
“an equatorial region of the Atlantic Ocean with calms, sudden storms and unpredictable light winds.”
“a state or period of inactivity, stagnation or depression.”
I have a confession to make. After the State of Michigan fairly easily sent the Indian Hoosiers Last Saturday, I thought the mid-season funk was over. I fully expected the Spartans to have escaped the Bermuda Triangle in early February and were ready to make another run at the Big Ten title, with the difficulty of the remaining schedule cursed.
When the Spartans had a 14-point lead at Penn State, I figured it was going to be smooth sailing for the rest of the night. But then, all of a sudden, the wind seemed to come out of the sails of Michigan State’s attack. It became inactive and stagnant, and by the time the final buzzer sounded, Spartans fans were depressed. Now a once promising season seems lost at sea.
As we’ll see below, the chances of Tom Izzo winning his record 11th Big Ten title are fading on the distant horizon. There are still more trophies to chase, but some of the doors of opportunity for the 2021-22 season are closing. Based on where the Spartans were just a few weeks ago, that’s disappointing.
But right now the main focus is on escaping the doldrums. While this Spartan team is flawed and unpredictable, I think they have enough quality pieces to win a few more games in 2022. The winds of change in Big Ten country are fickle. Hopefully they will start blowing again in Michigan soon.
Improved Big Ten rankings and updated odds
Table 1 gives the improved Big Ten rankings updated to February 18. Note that all value changes are relative to last week’s full update, right before the win over Indiana.
With a 9-5 record, Michigan State currently sits in sixth place in the conference, half a game behind suddenly hot Rutgers, after the Scarlet Knights recently eliminated Illinois on Wednesday night. As a result of that upset, Purdue has now taken the lead and taken first place in the conference with a 12-4 record with just four games remaining. Illinois and Wisconsin are half a game back at 11-4, while ohio state sits in fourth place at 9-4.
The updated Big Ten earnings distribution matrix is shown below in Table 2.
Michigan State’s expected conference win total fell slightly to 11.8, still implying that a final record of 12-8 is very likely. It would also imply that the Spartans are most likely to split the final six conference games to finish the regular season at 21-10 overall.
The Spartans are right now should earn a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. If Michigan State splits the final six games and goes 1-1 in the Big Ten Tournament, I would project a final seed of No. 7 in the big dance. Should MSU reach 13-7 or 14-6, this seed would clearly improve. However, if MSU really limps on the stretch, it could fall to a No. 8 or No. 9 seed or worse, depending on the mood of the selection committee.
Table 3 below gives the updated odds to at least share the Big Ten regular season title as of Feb. 11.
As Rutgers continues to decimate conference-leading teams, Purdue and Ohio State have stood to benefit. The Boilermakers have a solid lead in Big Ten regular-season championship odds at 64 percent, with Wisconsin and Illinois both now recording with percentage odds in the bottom 30.
Ohio State’s odds have increased significantly to 25%. Michigan State’s ratings have now fallen to 1.6%.
That said, if you’re an eternal optimist, here’s grist for your mill. In 2020, Michigan State was 9-6 on Feb. 19 and had just lost four of its last five games. Four of the last five games were against ranked teams and half of those games were on the road. The Spartans rallied to win all five games, and thanks to some upheaval elsewhere in the conference, Michigan State was able to hang a banner for a Big Ten championship.
Michigan State is currently only one game away from first place and will soon face three of the four teams ahead of the Spartans in the standings. MSU still controls its own destiny with the exception of Wisconsin. But the calculations above only give the Badgers an eight percent chance of winning the draw. If the Spartans can rally like Izzo’s team did in 2020 (and that’s a huge “if”), a Big Ten title is still very likely on the line.
Big Ten Tournament and Schedule Highlights
If the season ended today, it would be weird, because there are still 35 Big Ten games left on the full schedule. Luckily, we can use projected point spreads and simulations to get some insight into how the Big Ten tournament standings might play out. Table 4 below summarizes the odds for each team to win each seed.
Rutgers is clearly the rising star this week, as the projected seed Scarlet Knights jumped four spots to No. 5 using both methods of calculation. Michigan State has slipped to 6th place in the table and is in danger of falling below the Michigan Wolverines to the No. 7 seed in the scenario where the currently projected favorite teams all win.
The Spartans’ odds of moving up into the top four and earning the Big Ten Tournament double bye have fallen to 17%, which is lower than Rutgers’ odds of 24%. Michigan State’s odds of winning the Big Ten tournament are currently 6.5%, as shown below in Table 5.
Figure 1 below provides an update on the strength of the Big Ten planning data.
Similar to the latest updates, Michigan State continues to have the toughest remaining schedule in the conference, while Wisconsin and Ohio State have two of the easiest remaining schedules. Purdue and Illinois rank in the middle.
Michigan State Kenpom Trajectory and Remaining Schedule
Figure 2 below provides an updated Kenpom Efficiency Scatterplot, the format of which was previously explained.
Until the blistering loss at Rutgers, the Spartans’ efficiency numbers hovered around the figure 2 range, similar to Michigan State’s 2010 Final Four team. Over the past two weeks, efficiency has drifted toward the area of the chart that is populated by former Spartan teams that haven’t made it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The key point here is that if the Spartans aren’t starting to play better right now, especially on defense, Michigan State fans need to temper expectations about this team’s potential cap (if they don’t). have not already done). Obviously, the team that failed to eliminate the Nittany Lions at State College this week isn’t going to make any sense in March.
Finally, Figure 3 below provides an overview of MSU’s remaining Big Ten games, including projected point spreads and win probabilities for the final eight contests on the schedule.
The Spartans have now reached the end of season gauntlet that we have seen coming since early December. Michigan State only plans to be favored in two of the last six games, but the overall odds suggest it’s more likely to get three wins in the last six games.
One way to think about this is that MSU should win one of two home games against Illinois or Purdue, one of three games remaining on the road, and the final at home against Maryland. This is the most likely set of scenarios.
I will also say that the one game on the schedule that looks the toughest right now is the road game at Ohio State on March 3. The raw probabilities shown in Figure 3 confirm this, as does the timeline. The game in Columbus will be the Spartans’ third game in six days, including two likely very physical games against Purdue and Michigan. It would certainly have been much better if Michigan State had already scored a big win at Michigan when it resumed in early January.
How Michigan State performs over the next five games will ultimately decide the fate of the 2021-22 team. If the Spartans can consistently harness the level of focus and execution the team has displayed in Wisconsin and at home against Indiana and Michigan, I think Michigan State can get past and win four or even five of these remaining matches.
History tells us it’s certainly possible, if not likely with Coach Izzo on the bench. But every team and every year is different and nothing in life is guaranteed. Either way, the opportunity is there for this team to make their mark. Now is the time to move. Go green.