Why Penn State?

Submitted by Brian on March 4th, 2009 at 2:26 PM

Stipulated: Michigan has no case for the NCAA tournament unless it wins at Minnesota on Saturday. The rest of this post assumes a Michigan win to get to 9-9 in the Big Ten, because if it does not it is pointless. Let this not be a jinx.

Why is Penn State in brackets ahead of Michigan? Look: they're currently in Lunardi's Bracketology and several others in the Bracket Matrix. 33 brackets have PSU in; just 11 have Michigan in. Hypothetical Michigan is 9-9 in conference and 19-12 overall pending the Big Ten tourney. Hypothetical Penn State (@ Iowa, Illinois) is probably 22-11 and 10-8 in conference. Right now they're 9-7.

Penn State has an advantage in conference, then. However, out of conference:

  Michigan Penn State
Games Against Kenpom Top 100 Duke(5), UCLA (9), Duke(5), UConn(3), Maryland(58), Northeastern(96) Temple (52), Rhode Island(66)
Wins against same Duke, UCLA, Northeastern None

Penn State's best nonconference win is against #104 Georgia Tech, which is headed for a one-win season in the ACC. Hell, Michigan's win over #113 Oakland is about as impressive as that. You can wipe away the Temple/Maryland losses as equal and call Michigan's win over #96 Northeastern equal to PSU's loss to #66 Rhode Island—very generous—and then you've got two wins in four games against top-ten opposition by Michigan versus Penn State's absolutely nothing. Surely that's a more impressive record even if Penn State is 1.5 games ahead in the conference standings, especially in a year when Michigan is missing the surest conference win of all: home against Indiana.

I make this point because I've heard a lot about Michigan's lack of a killer road win this season, which is something that makes little sense to me especially in relation to conference opponents. Penn State and Michigan play virtually the same schedule in conference, but you get the impression that a team that goes out and loses all its home games and wins all its road games is in much better shape than a team that does the opposite. This is clearly bats, as both teams have the exact same SOS, but the hoo-hah about road wins is the most ominous thing we hear about Michigan, and if they get bumped off the bubble it will obviously be the #1 thing cited. No matter that Michigan actually played a nonconference schedule, unlike PSU.

I don't know where Michigan stands in relation to teams in the Big East or Pac 10 or SEC, as there are just too many variables. But if 9-9 Michigan gets left out of the field and 10-8 Penn State gets in, there will be a fit around these parts. Road wins are a stupid metric. And even if they're a good metric it's because it showcases the team's ability to play at a very high level and do a very difficult thing, which Michigan has already demonstrated by beating UCLA on a neutral court and Duke at home.


Update: forgot about the UConn game.

Update II: some protest in the comments. Let's look at it like this: in the hypothetical situation where M beats Minnesota and PSU splits its last two, Michigan and Penn State will have identical records across the 16 conference games they shared. Consider the conference games the teams didn't share as nonconference games and this is what you're looking at:

  Michigan Penn State
Games Against Kenpom Top 100 N-Duke(5), N-UCLA (9), Duke(5), UConn(3), OSU (46), @ Maryland(58), @ Northwestern(68) Northeastern(96) @ MSU(14), Temple (52), N-Rhode Island(66)
Wins against same Duke, N-UCLA, @ Northwestern, Northeastern @ MSU

Then you are basically holding Penn State's one win at MSU against 2 losses to meh teams equivalent to Michigan going 4-4 against the schedule you see above including two wins over top ten foes. Does not compute.

Again, if Michigan loses to the Gophers this is moot, and if Penn State wins its last two it's also moot. I just don't understand how you can look at the above resumes and give Penn State the edge.



March 4th, 2009 at 2:38 PM ^

Penn State did beat a damn good Michigan St. team on the road at the Breslin Center. I'd say that's at leat equal (or better) to Michigan beating Duke on a neutral court.

chitownblue (not verified)

March 4th, 2009 at 4:43 PM ^

Look at "big wins"

PSU: at MSU, home vs. Purdue, home vs. Illinois
US: neutral vs. UCLA, home vs. Duke, home vs. Purdue, home vs. Illinois

So, do you put more stock in @MSU or UCLA on a neutral court AND Duke at home?


March 4th, 2009 at 3:00 PM ^

Your computer engineering background is obvious, O blogmaster, for though your wit and wisdom regarding the mind-machine interface is exquisite, your manners toward the ancient spirits of supernatural power are lacking, indeed!

"Let this not be a jinx."

Oh, woe. This is, basically, an invitation for destruction! Ask something of the spirits without a proper offering, and they will surely intervene to your displeasure, just to spite you.

Worry not, though. I will make a sacrifice on our behalf tomorrow evening.


March 4th, 2009 at 3:01 PM ^

Except Michigan and Penn State will have basically identical SOS in conference -- actually PSU has a worse schedule because they miss Illinois and Ohio State instead of MSU and Indiana -- so why does it matter what the distribution of victories is in nearly identical schedules? How can the distribution of victories be enough to make up for an utterly enormous gap in nonconference play?


March 4th, 2009 at 3:02 PM ^

...in the 5 years preceding this one, only one team has made it with an at-large bid and an RPI over 60 (Air Force made it with a 60 RPI in '06 and a 70 RPI in '04)

I may be wrong, but PSU splitting their final 2 games would leave them pretty close to 60, and Michigan's would be close to 40 if they split.

I'd be pissed too if PSU got in ahead of Michigan in those circumstances. Playing a cake non-conference schedule should be penalized. I don't think PSU has earned it.


March 4th, 2009 at 3:06 PM ^

You dodged the easiest win in the Big Ten this year (home vs. Indiana), but you also dodged the most likely loss (at MSU - a game Penn State won). And while Michigan's non-conference is clearly superior to Penn State's, Penn State's conference play is equally clearly superior to Michigan's on the basis of the win at MSU (plus they have a chance to win at home against Illinois for a sweep).

Honestly, I would consider 10-8 PSU and 9-9 Michigan about equal, in part because PSU is finishing a little stronger. In both cases, it would probably come down to winning a game or two in the Big Ten tourney.

Yinka Double Dare

March 4th, 2009 at 3:31 PM ^

Michigan dodged the most likely loss? I could swear Michigan played Purdue in West Lafayette. Maybe I imagined that game where Manny got ejected for an indavertant elbow.

Seriously though, Purdue only has one home conference loss, in OT, to a tourney lock, and has won all its other home conference games by double digits. MSU has lost twice at home, and one of those was to Northwestern. Even if Purdue gacks it to Northwestern tonight, they've still got a better argument than MSU.

The difference has been MSU's road play, where they've lost only at... Purdue.

big gay heart

March 4th, 2009 at 3:40 PM ^

This is a very good post, Brian. I agree with it, although I will say that - for all intents and purposes - PSU and Michigan are basically equal in terms of likely tournament impact. That is, I think they're basically the same team (albeit, with different styles of play). So, while PSU's OOC record isn't remarkable in any way, we all know that in-season conference play is a huge deal to the committee. Credit them for taking care of business.

I think M is a tourney team. But some of these lackluster efforts and/or 20 minutes of offensive futility have crushed M's tourney chances. The bottom line is that this team lost one too many winnable games and, unfortunately, it seems as if its significant wins won't be enough to counter-act that fact.

However, win at Minny, there's no way you're keeping this team out of the Tourney. The way I see it, if M can't go on the road, shoulder the pressure, and win a big game, they aren't Tourney worthy anyway.


March 4th, 2009 at 4:25 PM ^

How many teams actually have to play in another teams home stadium for the tournament? Sure, winning on the road is nice and all but it's a horrible discontinuity to say that winning on the road = NCAA Tournament situation. The tourney is a neutral court affair (few exceptions...) and when you look at our neutral court results they are pretty good. Beating UCLA on a neutral court is good. Now, I don't know if they've crunched the numbers for basketball but I know for football they give roughly 3 points to the team playing at home so if you use those same 3 points for us we quite possibly win at Wisconsin and we definitely win at Iowa. Who here doesn't think we beat Iowa on a neutral court - heck, even Wisconsin got quite a few Big Ten calls (i.e. if you're the home team the refs play to the fans A LOT!) in the last game. Also, I don't really think PSU is finishing all that strong. I'd say they are finishing about as strong as we are so again we've got another push. You've gotta go w/ RPI and SOS and we clearly win both.


March 4th, 2009 at 3:54 PM ^

That Northeastern beat Providence which beat Rhode Island which beat Penn State?

I love the fact that the NE win somehow might help us; hopefully they can win the CAA this weekend.

There is room in the tourney for both PSU and UM. In fact, it will probably happen if UM takes care of business.

What there is no room for is all three of PSU, UM and Minny to make the field.


March 4th, 2009 at 5:05 PM ^

What happens if we drop a turd in our opening B10 tournament game by shooting 32% and lose?

Conversely, what would happen if we lost to Minnesota but then got hot and made it to the B10 title game? Not enough?

Are we guaranteed a NCAA spot if we win the B10 tournament?

Out of all three scenarios, the first is most likely, unfortunately. We're still the worst shooting team in the conference, along with Indiana.


March 4th, 2009 at 6:08 PM ^

all that the brackets are saying is that as of RIGHT NOW they are out.....and RIGHT NOW is not the time that they select the teams, so when they play their last reg season game, lunardi and co. will, i guarantee you, show the updated brackets, and still that wont matter.. i see this Michigan team doing what it takes to get to the dance..they have had too much time to think about it, and its time for action..in the past when Amaker tried to get a competitive team on the floor, they never seemed to be that believable as a threat to do anything in the postseason. Although they did win an NIT title (insert happy emphatic YES) they still were garbage. Watching that offense was miserable to say the least..Now however Belein has an offense that has started to click...earlier this year we had absolutely no business playing wisconsin, and when they last played them, they played good. so my prediction is that we handle minnesota, i mean really handle them and shut them down as a tune up for the big ten tournament, i think we will get to the big ten final and possibly win it, no matter who Michigan plays they will eat them alive...truly i believe this will happen, GO BLUE


March 4th, 2009 at 6:50 PM ^

Michigan: All right. Where is the poison? The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right... and who is dead.

PSU: But it's so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you: are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet or his enemy's? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.

Michigan: You've made your decision then?

PSU: Not remotely. Because iocane comes from Australia, as everyone knows, and Australia is entirely peopled with criminals, and criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you.

Michigan: Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.

PSU: Wait til I get going! Now, where was I?

Michigan: Australia.

PSU: Yes, Australia. And you must have suspected I would have known the powder's origin, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.

Michigan: You're just stalling now.

PSU: You'd like to think that, wouldn't you? You've beaten my giant, which means you're exceptionally strong, so you could've put the poison in your own goblet, trusting on your strength to save you, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But, you've also bested my Spaniard, which means you must have studied, and in studying you must have learned that man is mortal, so you would have put the poison as far from yourself as possible, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.

Michigan: You're trying to trick me into giving away something. It won't work.


Michigan: Then make your choice.

PSU: I will, and I choose - What in the world can that be?
[PSU gestures up and away from the table. Michigan looks. PSU swaps the goblets]

Michigan: What? Where? I don't see anything.

PSU: Well, I- I could have sworn I saw something. No matter. First, let's drink. Me from my glass, and you from yours.

Michigan, PSU: [they drink ]

Michigan: You guessed wrong.

PSU: You only think I guessed wrong! That's what's so funny! I switched glasses when your back was turned! Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well-known is this: never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha..


March 4th, 2009 at 7:04 PM ^

I agree with your scenario that an 11-7 PSU beats out an 8-10 Michigan regardless of the differences in non-conference schedule. And I agree that a 9-9 Michigan SHOULD win out over a 10-8 PSU, but not an 11-7 Penn State (if I'm reading the above correctly). An 11-7 Penn State starts to have a pretty solid resume (sweep of Illinois, road win over MSU versus Michigan's home wins over Duke, Illinois, and Purdue AND the neutral court victory over UCLA).

The real thing sticking out to me is the 2-8 road record. I always think that gets a lot more play within the committee than people think.

Michigan Arrogance

March 4th, 2009 at 8:40 PM ^

that duke totally sleepwalked thru that game at crisler (shot like 3 of 30 from the arc?) and ucla... haven't they dropped out of the top 25? thos wins aren't as impressive as you'd think.


March 4th, 2009 at 10:13 PM ^

Bubble teams are dropping left and right (Kentucky loses at home to Georgia, Florida loses at Mississippi State, Miami loses at Georgia Tech, BC loses at NC State). Assuming no crash-and-burn in the Big Ten tourney, 10-8 PSU and 9-9 Michigan are probably both in the way things are going now.

Yinka Double Dare

March 5th, 2009 at 10:24 AM ^

I don't envy the committee this year, this is one of the most muddled bubbles I can remember. No one seems to want to jump up and grab hold of a spot. Which of course bodes well for Michigan if they can win their next two -- these other teams aren't just losing, many of them are losing to flat-out bad teams. I mean, Kentucky losing at home to Georgia is just brutal.

And weirdly, I think we have to start considering the possibility that Northwestern can move itself on the bubble -- if they win at Ohio State this week, they're also .500 in conference and would have SEVEN wins over the RPI Top 50, including wins at both Purdue and MSU, and a win over Florida State in the B10/ACC challenge. I think they're still behind us in line because of the season sweep, but a win @OSU means they'll have finished strong in the regular season. A win in the B10 tourney makes it interesting. 2 wins in the conference tourney and they may well be in. They probably really regret those leads they gacked up to Purdue and Illinois now -- if they'd won those (and the IL one was especially egregious), they'd be in front of all the other B10 bubble teams right now.

Of course, like us, it depends on winning their last game on the road against a bubble squad. But it's a team playing pretty well right now, and would be tough if they're the first round opponent Michigan has to beat, even if we did sweep them in the regular season.


March 5th, 2009 at 10:59 AM ^

The other team I don't get is Virginia Tech. Everyone seems to have them ahead of Michigan too. Worse SOS, worse RPI. The explanation always is: "Oh the ACC is so strong." Well then how did they end up with a worse SOS??? Does the mere presence of Tyler Hansborough in their conference give them an elevation of like 20 RPI spots or something?

Yinka Double Dare

March 5th, 2009 at 11:57 AM ^

As far as I know the committee takes everything into account that is in your record, i.e. they don't really care what conference you are in or how many teams from that conference are getting bids, but they will look at your schedule strength, including who you did or didn't play twice in your conference in order to evaluate your conference record (matters most in the Big East), and I'm sure they can see individual results. I would think that if you're looking at approximately equal teams and you're looking for something to separate the teams, you'd notice that those two teams played twice and one team won both times. But it's probably only for close cases -- obviously H2H wins wouldn't put a team with a clearly inferior resume ahead.