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Inside the Numbers: Go ahead and order the banner

February 25th, 2014 by Drew Hallett


UM win over MSU 2-23-14(Tony Ding, AP)

The stakes were set when Michigan and Michigan State took the floor at the Crisler Center this past Sunday. The victor would inherit sole possession of first place in the Big Ten and have the inside track to become the Big Ten regular season champion. Never before had the Wolverines and the Spartans played each other under these circumstances with so few games left in the conference season. It arguably was the biggest game in the history of this heated intrastate rivalry.

You already know what happened. The Spartans caught fire and sprinted out to an 11-point lead in the first ten minutes. But the Wolverines fought back to within two points at halftime and used a 21-4 run in a seven-minute span in the second half to pull away. Michigan bested MSU, 79-70, sweeping the season series and beating the Spartans for the sixth time in their past eight meetings.

With Michigan sitting atop the Big Ten standings, many U-M fans have wondered, “How likely is it that the Wolverines win the Big Ten regular season championship?” I have the answer, and Michigan fans will love it.

The Wolverines currently are 11-3 in the Big Ten. With four games left, U-M can end with no worse than an 11-7 record. Only five other Big Ten schools can post such a record, meaning only six teams still are mathematically in the hunt for a conference title. They are Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio State, and Nebraska. Here are the conference standings as of yesterday:

Big Ten Standings as of February 24, 2014

Place

Team

Record

Games Behind

1

Michigan

11-3

2

Michigan State

11-4

0.5

3

Wisconsin

9-5

2

4

Iowa

8-5

2.5

5

Ohio State

9-6

2.5

6

Nebraska

8-6

3

Ken Pomeroy, a proponent of advanced statistics in college basketball, uses a complex algorithm that provides the odds teams have to win in each of their upcoming games. These percentages can be found on the team pages at his website, Kenpom.com. For example, here are the odds that Pomeroy gives Michigan to win in each of its final four games:

Michigan’s Odds to Win in Each of its Four Remaining Games per Ken Pomeroy

Date

Opponent

Site

Odds to Win

February 26

Purdue

Away

74%

March 1

Minnesota

Home

84%

March 4

Illinois

Away

66%

March 8

Indiana

Home

87%

With these percentages, I can calculate the likelihood that Michigan will finish with a certain conference record. I also can conduct the same analysis for the other teams in contention for a Big Ten championship. Therefore, using this analysis, I determined the likelihood that the Wolverines will win the Big Ten.

Projected records

Odds Michigan Finishes 15-3: 35.7 percent

Michigan controls its own destiny not only to win a Big Ten championship, but also to win it outright. U-M is the only Big Ten team with no more than three conference losses. Therefore, if the Wolverines win each of their four remaining games, they will be the sole Big Ten champion regardless of how the other contenders perform down the stretch.

The great news for Michigan is that it will be a significant favorite in each of its remaining contests. The Wolverines will have at least a 74 percent chance to win in three of their four remaining games. The only one with lower odds to be victorious is at last-place Illinois, but U-M still has a 66 percent chance to upend the Fighting Illini in Assembly Hall. Because these odds are so high, the Wolverines have a 35.7 percent chance to run the table. If they do so, they will have 15 conference wins for the first time since 1993 and their first outright Big Ten title since 1986.

Odds Michigan Finishes 14-4: 43.1 percent

Michigan does have room for error, though. A loss does not hurt U-M’s odds to win a Big Ten championship. No other team can earn a better Big Ten record than 14-4, so the Wolverines still are guaranteed to win at least a share of the Big Ten crown even if they drop one game. Therefore, because Michigan has a 35.7 percent chance to finish 15-3 and a 43.1 percent chance to finish 14-4, it has a 78.8 percent chance to win a share of the Big Ten title without any help.

(Scott Mapes, UMHoops)

Michigan has a 78.8 percent chance of at least a share of the Big Ten title with four games remaining (Scott Mapes, UMHoops)

Even if U-M loses one, it still is very likely to be the outright Big Ten champion. Only one other team can attain a 14-4 conference record: Michigan State. But, to do so, MSU will need to beat all three of its remaining opponents. Because the Spartans still must host Iowa and travel to Columbus to face the Buckeyes, the odds of doing so are low. In fact, Pomeroy gives MSU just a 15.9 percent chance to run the table and finish 14-4. Accordingly, the Wolverines still will be in great position to be the only Big Ten champion with a 14-4 record.

Odds Michigan Finishes 13-5: 17.9 percent

This is the territory where Michigan could see a Big Ten crown slip through its fingers. If U-M finishes the season with a 2-2 record, it opens the door for Michigan State to be the sole Big Ten champion. To do so, MSU would need to run the table and finish 14-4.

As aforementioned, those odds are slim. There is only a 3.4 percent chance that the Spartans finish 14-4 and the Wolverines finish 13-5 or worse. Further, Michigan has a 96.7 percent chance to finish with a 13-5 record or better. If U-M earns such a record, there is a 93.9 percent chance that U-M will be at least a co-champion.

However, if U-M settles for 13-5, it’s not likely to be the outright Big Ten champion. Three other teams can reach 13-5: Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Iowa. There is only a 19 percent chance that all three of them fail to have at least a 13-5 record. Accordingly, Michigan cannot expect to be the only Big Ten team to hang a banner in its home arena next season if it loses half of its upcoming games.

Odds Michigan Finishes 12-6: 3.1 percent

This would be an absolute collapse by the Wolverines. A 1-3 close to the conference season is very unlikely, but not completely out of the realm of possibility. Because Michigan is 10-2 against opponents ranked outside Pomeroy’s Top 50 this season and none of U-M’s final four foes are in the Pomeroy Top 50, no one expects U-M to win only once more in the regular season. But, if it does, the Wolverines can kiss away the crown. There is only a 0.6 percent chance that all four of Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Iowa finish with not better than 12-6 records. One of these three Big Ten foes will do better, leaving the Maize and Blue to wonder how it all fell apart.

Odds Michigan Finishes 11-7: 0.2 percent

Nope.

Takeaway

This is why Sunday’s game against the Spartans was arguably the biggest in the history of the rivalry. With the win, Michigan essentially has locked up at least a share of the Big Ten regular season championship. The Wolverines are guaranteed a share if they finish 15-3 or 14-4, which has a 78.8 percent chance of occurring. And there’s a 93.9 percent chance that they have at least a 13-5 record and grab a piece of the crown. Given Michigan’s remaining strength of schedule, only an utter collapse will send U-M home empty-handed.

Should Michigan begin to plan a banner ceremony for next season? Not yet only because nothing is guaranteed, especially in the Big Ten. But the Wolverines would probably not hurt themselves by getting a head start on the paperwork to order a “Big Ten Champions” banner for 2014.