Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, March 2, 2013 at 7:42 PM
Saturday was jam-packed with fantastic college basketball action. Sunday brings one of the most important games of the weekend when Michigan tries to get rivalry revenge at home against Michigan State in a game that will be nationally televised by CBS.
The Wolverines looked to have snapped out of an extended funk when they rushed Illinois a week ago. But, a stunning loss on the road at lowly Penn State (who hadn’t won a Big 10 game until then!) has cast new doubts about the postseason readiness of Michigan. Hey, anybody can stub their toe here and there. But, Michigan has now only played one good game in the last few weeks…and is looking like a team that’s been worn down physically by a killer schedule.
And…the first game where they REALLY looked tired was in East Lansing against this very same Michigan State squad. The Spartans went for the jugular early and coasted to a decisive victory. That’s what started the “Michigan State could be a #1 seed” discussions. Were Sparty to sweep the season series and go deep in the Big 10 tournament, it would be hard to deny them a position on the top rung.
Let’s run this meeting through our gauntlet of indicator stats…
Michigan State: 22-6 (11-4 in the Big 10)
Michigan: 23-5 (10-5 in the Big 10)
You know the Big 10 is a brutal conference. Either both of these teams will have five league losses at the end of the day, or Michigan will drop its sixth while MSU stays at four. Is the league so strong that both of these teams should still get elite seeds in the Big Dance. Unless a truly big surprise awaits us later this month, the answer is a pretty emphatic yes. These two were a combined 24-2 in non-conference action and Michigan State usually takes awhile to get going anyway. Great teams in a great conference.
Michigan State: #10 with Sagarin, #12 with Pomeroy
Michigan: #9 with Sagarin, #10 with Pomeroy
These are virtually identical teams in terms of full season accomplishments. The margin for error is such with over 300 teams being measured that you can’t legitimately separate them. Heck, it’s possible that both are top six teams rather than just top 10! Jeff Sagarin of USA Today and college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy confirm what you’ve been seeing with your own eyes.
COMPUTER STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE RANKINGS
Michigan State: #2 with Sagarin, #2 with Pomeroy
Michigan: #20 with Sagarin, #25 with Pomeroy
The Spartans get credit for playing the tougher schedule because Coach Izzo always challenges them in November and December. This approach works GREAT for him year after year in terms of building toughness for the league campaign and the Big Dance. It’s amazing how many head coaches out there keep denying this is the best approach. Padding your record against creampuffs is easy. Building a champion is tough! Both of these teams have championship potential. Michigan State is on pace to peak at the right time, as usual.
WON-LOST RECORDS VS. SAGARIN’S TOP 50
Michigan State: 7-6
The edge in this snapshot goes to Michigan. But, if you’ve been watching games recently…you know that they’ve been sliding backward after a great start. Michigan State learns from losses, and it makes them stronger late in the season. The first meeting suggested these may be two ships passing in the night. If the Wolverines can’t win in Ann Arbor, you can be fairly confident that they peaked way too early. It’s amazing that these teams have both topped a dozen games vs. the top 50 already…with a few more to come in the regular season and Big 10 tournament. Teams in the Big 10 and Big East will have a significant “battle tested” edge in the Dance.
JOE LUNARDI’S BRACKETOLOGY
Michigan State: projected #2 seed
Michigan: projected #3 seed
Can’t argue with those based on recent form. Michigan would like to make a run back into consideration for a #2…or even #1 if they can win the conference tournament. Michigan State is positioned well for the next time a #1 seed loses, which is happening on a weekly basis. It’s possible that Michigan slumps home and slides to a #4…which would still keep them as a dangerous sleeper. That possibility is back on the radar after the loss at Penn State.
POMEROY’S ADJUSTED OFFENSE RANKINGS
Michigan State: #20
Moving to the chess match…Michigan’s offensive greatness is hidden by the slow tempo they play. They don’t post high raw totals…but they post very efficient totals after you’ve adjusted for pace and caliber of opposition. If you’ve watched a lot of their games, you’ve seen them work the ball for layups and dunks time and time again whenever openings present themselves. We would argue though that they don’t play to that #2 ranking late in close games vs. top teams. They tend to settle for long guarded jumpers, which is the opposite of efficient. Michigan State logs in as a top 20 offense, which is great much of the time until you’re down to the crunch time in the tourneys.
POMEROY’S ADJUSTED DEFENSE RANKINGS
Michigan State: #14
Another illusion created by Michigan’s tempo. The media thinks of them as a defensive team because they’ve had some low scoring games. They’re actually soft defensively once you account for pace. Michigan State is a much better defensive side…though still not quite superstar caliber compared to the most dangerous championship threats. Defense wins championships! The Spartans will probably have to beat some top 10 or top 5 defenses if they’re going to cut down the nets. Skepticism about Michigan’s championship readiness is most justified in this category.
POMEROY’S ADJUSTED TEMPO RANKINGS
Michigan State: #219
Both teams are slower than average…but Michigan State is the faster of the two sides. The home team usually determines tempo. That sets up another wrestling match that fans have grown accustomed to seeing in this league and the Big East.
JIM HURLEY is working closely with his Big 10 sources to determine Michigan’s mindset and health entering this game. If they peaked too early…then the Wolverines are going to lose this game outright and get swept in the series. Michigan State is playing A LOT better than the Michigan team we’ve seen outside of the Illinois game in recent days. But, if Michigan took the Penn State loss as another wake-up call, this has a chance to be their peak outing of the conference slate. This is state rivalry revenge in a bounce-back spot. The intangibles favor Michigan State significantly. Do they still have what it takes to play up to those intangibles?
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Other games of interest:
Villanova at #23 Pittsburgh (huge game for both!)
Miami at New York in the NBA (potential Eastern Finals preview on ABC)
Oklahoma City at LA Clippers (potential Western Finals preview on ABC)
Dallas at Houston
Chicago at Indiana
Atlanta at LA Lakers
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Back with your tomorrow for a BIG MONDAY analysis of Cincinnati/Louisville. On Tuesday we’ll be studying Ohio State/Indiana. Later in the week, blockbuster rematches like Florida/Kentucky, Duke/North Carolina, Syracuse/Georgetown, and Notre Dame/Louisville.
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