Hoops Preview: Michigan State, Big Ten Semifinal Comment Count

Ace March 3rd, 2018 at 10:46 AM


WHAT #15 Michigan (26-7, 13-5)
vs #6 MSU (29-3, 16-2)
WHERE Madison Square Garden
The City So Ni--
damn you rapaport
WHEN 2 pm ET, Saturday
LINE MSU -4 (KenPom)
MSU -3.4 (Torvik)
MSU -3.5 (Vegas)

the name's Ad-Rock and I'm here to say / we love pizza and saying ayyyyyyyy (RIP MCA)


Rivalry/banner aspects aside, Michigan is probably playing with house money at the moment. They're up to a five-seed in the latest update of the Bracket Matrix even though a handful of brackets inexplicably list them as an eight-seed (or even as low as a nine!). Torvik's teamcast has M as the top five-seed. A neutral-court loss to State in their third game in three days shouldn't knock them from that line unless the committee is up to some weird stuff again. (Admittedly, that is far from out of the question.)

A victory would put the Wolverines in serious contention for a four-seed. It'd also lock up a season sweep of MSU despite not playing them at Crisler during one of the Spartans' better seasons. It'd also give Michigan a chance to add yet another banner in the Beilein era. These are all good things. I'd like to see them.


Projected starters are in bold. Hover over headers for stat explanations. The "Should I Be Mad If He Hits A Three" methodology: we're mad if a guy who's not good at shooting somehow hits one. Yes, you're still allowed to be unhappy if a proven shooter is left open. It's a free country.

Pos. # Name Yr. Ht./Wt. %Min* %Poss ORtg SIBMIHHAT
G 5 Cassius Winston So. 6'0, 185 74 23 130 Not At All
3rd nationally in assist rate, 2nd in 3-point shooting. Turnover-prone, poor on-ball D.
G 1 Josh Langford So. 6'5, 210 64 21 109 No
Solid shooter who likes the midrange, works mostly off the ball.
F 22 Miles Bridges So. 6'7, 230 74 25 117 No
Powerful, skilled all-around force.
F 2 Jaren Jackson Jr. Fr. 6'11, 242 49 23 118 Not At All
Unicorn. Great shot-blocker/rebounder, hits threes, huge dunks. Foul-prone.
C 44 Nick Ward So. 6'8, 250 42 29 119 Very
Tremendous post scorer. Great rebounder and shot-blocker. Drives Izzo nuts.
G 20 Matt McQuaid Jr. 6'4, 200 59 14 123 Not At All
Just A Shooter™ type making 40% of threes.
F 25 Kenny Goins Jr. 6'6, 230 47 11 119 Very
Hustle guy, not sure why he ever plays over Xavier Tillman or JJJ at C.
G 11 Tum Tum Nairn Sr. 5'10, 175 30 10 113 Yes
Out there for defense/leadership. All but ignored on offense.

*last five games

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]


The Fightin' Plausible Deniabilities fended off a Wisconsin team that stayed with them until the (terrible) final possession of yesterday's quarterfinal to earn their chance at revenge. That gave MSU 13 straight victories dating back to, you guessed it, the Michigan game. That sounds a little more impressive than it looks on paper; they've only won one game against a top-five B1G team in that span (by three at home vs. Purdue) and had close calls against Indiana, Northwestern, and Wisconsin (twice).

Despite that caveat, they appear to be rounding into tournament form. Since the last time these teams played—preview here—Tom Izzo has made some adjustments to his rotation. The most dangerous one is the lineup he's now using to close a lot of games, moving all-world freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. to center, shifting Miles Bridges to his more natural power forward spot, and bringing in sharpshooter Matt McQuaid.

Jackson has continued to improve since the first time these teams faced off. He's shooting 61/41/79 with a top-five block rate, he's strong on the glass, and he's cut down on turnovers. JJJ's only real bugaboo is foul trouble; he fouled out in 15 minutes yesterday and hasn't cracked 20 minutes in five of his last seven games. Duncan Robinson made Jackson work hard for his 19 points the last time around, but I'm sure he wouldn't mind facing Kenny Goins instead.

Goins has played a surprising number of minutes lately, both because of foul trouble for JJJ and Izzo's continued love-hate relationship with remarkably talented and productive big man Nick Ward, who played only 15 minutes yesterday despite committing a lone foul. That's been a largely inexplicable issue but it could work out fine in today's game; Moe Wagner won his matchup with Ward decisively in January. JJJ getting extended minutes at center may be MSU's best way to combat M's five-out offense.

Point guard Cassius Winston has finally absorbed most of Tum Tum Nairn's minutes, and he should stay out there so long as he isn't turning the ball over and isn't getting regularly dusted by Zavier Simpson. Neither is a guarantee: Winston can get sloppy with the ball and Simpson dropped 16 points, five assists, and no turnovers while harassing Winston into a 3-for-7, two-assist, four-turnover outing when they matched up.

Shooting guard Josh Langford has been more down than up lately, which has opened up more chances for McQuaid, who's been lighting it up from beyond the arc over the last month.

The other reserve to watch is freshman big man Xavier Tillman, who's given Izzo quality minutes lately and should probably be playing all of Goins' time—he's a better rebounder, shot-blocker, and finisher, and has become increasingly comfortable as his debut season has wore on.


Four Factors explanation

State's defense remains one of the toughest in the country, especially inside the arc. They're the country's best shot-blocking team (without fouling much, impressively) and two-point defense; their main weakness, an inability to force turnovers, wouldn't come into play much against Michigan regardless. The Wolverines are going to need to use their perimeter shooting to open up the interior. Thank goodness yesterday happened.

MSU's offense borders on elite despite some ugly turnover numbers because they shoot well, especially on three-pointers, and they're fifth nationally in offensive rebounding. Michigan's improbable edge on the offensive boards in the first game would be a very nice thing to repeat.


Limit JJJ's defensive impact with Wagner. Even though Jackson recorded six blocks the first time these teams played, Michigan's five-out attack mostly took him away from his preferred defensive hangout near the paint, and the results were apparent: Michigan scored 1.17 PPP against one of the stingiest defenses in the country. If Moe Wagner plays like he did in the first game (27 points) or yesterday, Michigan should be in good shape. If he's off or in foul trouble, the offense is going to bog down if Jon Teske has to play extended minutes.

This is also a better offensive matchup for Duncan Robinson and a hopefully-no-longer-broken Jordan Poole than it is for Charles Matthews. Driving into the teeth of this defense doesn't work so well and Matthews learned that the last time, going 3-for-10 with three turnovers. Hopefully he'll focus on defense, rebounding, and keeping the ball moving when he's out there.

Win the point guard battle. This was a surprisingly decisive win for Simpson over Winston in the first game. That's become less surprising as Simpson has broken out, and his play yesterday portends good things for this afternoon—Winston isn't a good on-ball defender and Z has been aggressive and productive off the dribble. Simpson's defense will also play a huge role. MSU's offense doesn't click nearly as well when Winston isn't an efficient distributor and their spacing dies when they have to turn to Tum Tum.

Stick to shooters and run them off the line. Other than Simpson shutting down Winston, the biggest defensive key to the last victory was M's refusal to allow open perimeter looks for MSU, which went only 3-for-13 on threes. I'd much rather see Ward, JJJ, and Bridges try to go to work one-on-one on the block than see M's guards/wings help and give up three-point looks; State has too many good shooters, especially Winston and McQuaid. It's also quite beneficial to run these guys off the line. Per Synergy, MSU grades out in the 99th percentile on three-point jumpers; they're in the 48th percentile on long twos (17' to the three-point line), already far less efficient shots anyway.

Win the game. Obligatory.


MSU by 4.



March 3rd, 2018 at 1:33 PM ^

In all honesty, I'd like another crack at Purdue. We were robbed at home & some revenge would be pretty sweet!
Normally, with a dance ticket punched, I'd rather go out in the conference semis to get more rest. But this year there'll be plenty of time for that.

I have no idea how the seeding works - if we WERE to win the BTT, what's our ceiling? 4? Seems low, No?


March 3rd, 2018 at 1:43 PM ^

The Big Ten is really down this year, and Michigan did little of note in the non-conference, particularly if Texas and UCLA end up on the wrong side of the bubble.

The ceiling is probably a 3, but it requires nearly everything breaking right for Michigan.  Root for UM, Texas, UCLA, and all of the 1 and 2 seeds, since Michigan's not passing them anyway. (Also, root for Purdue to beat PSU, because Michigan's résumé looks better with a win over Purdue than it does with one extra win over PSU).


March 3rd, 2018 at 2:01 PM ^

ok, root for Purdue. Check. Gotta have that to get revenge anyway.

So, next question -

any real advantage to being a 3 over a 4?

We were a 3 in '89 I believe? Works for me...


March 3rd, 2018 at 2:07 PM ^

The #3 seed goes through the #2 to get to the Elite 8; the #4 seed goes through the #1. There’s not a ton of disparity between the #1s and #2s this year, so I don’t know how big of a deal it really is, but in theory you get a slightly easier game at each step.

And, yes, the ‘89 team was a 3-seed. :)


March 3rd, 2018 at 2:10 PM ^

A 3 seed has every advantage over a 4:

You play a 14 seed in round one instead of a 13;

You probably play a 6 seed in round two instead of a 5;

You probably play a 2 seed in the Sweet 16 instead of a 1.

You can't face the 1 seed until the regional final (and it might have lost by then).



March 3rd, 2018 at 3:12 PM ^

Well, SURE. A 3 has an advantage over a 4 - but is it in some way better than a 5 has over a 6, or 6 over 7, etc.
I guess getting out of the 1's side of the bracket is good. But if, for example, msu was the 2 & kansas the 1, would you have gained anything substantial?


March 3rd, 2018 at 11:25 AM ^

There is still some lag with Bracket Matrix; some of the ones that have us lower are only updated through Thursday, and it's not clear when the one that has us a 9 seed was updated.  OTOH, the one that has us a 4 seed includes yesterday's games, so that's a good sign.

If we still have our legs, I love our chances today.  I think we match up better with MSU than most teams do (Wagner and Simpson pose problems for them), and I don't think MSU is even playing that well at the moment, despite the winning streak.  Game after game they just seem to scrape by, against some pretty bad competition at that.  (Only one of their 16 conference wins came against a projected tournament team.)  But my fear is that fatigue may be factor for us today.  If our outside shots start falling short, we could have problems.  Maybe Sanderson's figured out the secret after last year?


March 3rd, 2018 at 11:37 AM ^

I'd like to add about Bracket Matrix that (probably intentionally) there is seemingly no sanity checking before accepting someone's bracket. Yesterday, I remember seeing OSU not even listed on one guy's bracket, which is insane. And a number of these brackets really do feel like people who read a chapter of a statistics book decided to get into the "prediction" game.

Michigan feels like a solid 5 seed. Win out and they are looking at a 4 seed. But I just see a ceiling for this team and conference, and if the #2 team in the country is currently looking at a 2 seed, expecting Michigan to get a huge bump beating them is unlikely.


March 3rd, 2018 at 12:29 PM ^

That's the nature of crowdsourcing -- there's intentionally no filter, because as soon as you limit it to experts, you increase the likelihood of groupthink bias.  If everybody has to have the same opinions in order for their vote to count, it's not a particularly useful exercise. :)

What would be interesting would be to see how predictive past performance actually is (I've never really looked).  If it's mostly a matter of luck, then the current matrix algorithm -- equal weighting -- makes sense.  However, if there is a correlation between past and future success, then you could argue that the matrix should be weighted accordingly.

The one big mistake that they make, in my opinion, is ignoring teams that are left out of the bracket when calculating the votes.  OSU's seed isn't penalized by the bracket that left them out.  It should be -- that should be counted as a vote for a #17 seed (or #13, if you prefer, given that they put the last at-larges in at #12).

I thought the generally bifurcated nature of Michigan's projections meant that a pairwise-type ranking might be illuminating.  i tried calculating a hockey-style pairwise ranking from the bracket matrix votes, where Team A would win a comparison with Team B if it appeared ahead of Team B on more brackets than those in which it appeared behind them.  The result was.. it agreed exactly with the matrix for the first six seedlines. :)  Apparently there was more consensus in the votes than I expected.

I think Michigan's most-likely range is 4 to 6 seed, with a 3 or 7 being vaguely plausible.  A lot of it is going to have to do with how the teams around them fare.  If the current 5 & 6 seeds all knock off a bunch of #1 and #2 seeds in their conference tournaments, that's bad for Michigan. If UCLA and Texas fall off of the bubble, that's also bad for Michigan.  Beating MSU for a second time would be a very nice insurance policy.


March 3rd, 2018 at 12:39 PM ^

Bracket Matrix Lag: One more thing to blame on Jim Delany's willingness to sell out the history of the Big Ten in order to play in the World's Most Famous Arena™.  Many people don't do daily bracket updates until the major conference tournaments start Tuesday.


March 3rd, 2018 at 11:27 AM ^

could one of the mgobloggers out there please convince them to go pro after the season?  win or not today, they're going to be a handful next year depending on who stays/goes.  not that we won't be talented, but they could have a pretty tough team next year. 


March 3rd, 2018 at 11:31 AM ^

sophomores and freshmen.  D Rob playing like a man on a mission.  Great team effort all around.  Win and get strong consideration as a 3 or 4 seed.  Fun to be in NSG with other alums.  Keep it going.


March 3rd, 2018 at 1:35 PM ^

I haven't felt that way about the cult of Sparty before...  Anyone else getting that vibe?  My hate for MSU/PSU is a very special hate. 

The Man Down T…

March 3rd, 2018 at 2:02 PM ^

and Purdue and we tie OSU for the longest BTT win streak in its short history.  OSU had back to back 3 win BTT titles and then won 2 games the next year before losing.  4 in a row last year with 4 this year will tie that and all but assure breaking it next season.