Stats & Info: Michigan State Spartans

Michigan State offense doing its share

November, 5, 2014
Nov 5

AP Photo/Al GoldisMichigan State’s Jeremy Langford consistently posts 100-yard games against Big Ten opponents.
Defense is often the first word associated with Michigan State football. The Spartans are one of two teams (Alabama) to finish each of the previous three seasons ranked in the top 10 in points per game allowed and defensive efficiency. The offense was often an afterthought, but things are different this season.

Michigan State is averaging the fifth-most points per game in the FBS (45.5) and has already scored one more offensive touchdown (47) than it had all of last season. Its offense is adding nearly seven more points to its net scoring margin than in any other year since Mark Dantonio was hired before the 2007 season.

What has made the offense so successful?

A 3-headed monster
The Spartans are one of three FBS teams (Mississippi State and Marshall) this season that are averaging at least 250 passing and rushing yards per game. They are also one of three FBS teams (USC and Western Michigan) that have an 1,800-yard passer, an 800-yard rusher and an 800-yard receiver.

Connor Cook has led the way for Michigan State’s passing game. He leads the Big Ten in Total QBR (81.9) and yards per attempt (9.4) this season. Cook has also been the best downfield passer in the conference; he has eight more completions on passes thrown 15 yards or longer than any other Big Ten player.

On the ground, Jeremy Langford has been one of the most consistent backs in the nation. He has rushed for at least 100 yards in 12 consecutive conference games, tied with Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey for the longest streak in at least the last 10 seasons. Langford has averaged 3.0 yards after contact per rush in conference play this season, second-best among Big Ten running backs (min. 50 attempts).

The third piece of Michigan State’s dynamic trio is wide receiver Tony Lippett. He has a Big Ten-high 889 receiving yards and is averaging 21.2 yards per reception. On passes thrown 15 yards or longer, he leads the conference in receptions (16) and touchdowns (six).

So, although Michigan State’s defense has received the bulk of the attention, it now has an offense to hold up its part of the bargain. On Saturday, the Spartans may need that offense to produce against an Ohio State team that has scored at least 50 points in five of its last six games.

Keys to victory: UConn 60, Michigan St. 54

March, 30, 2014
Mar 30
Connecticut is headed back to the Final Four, and once again it will be there in unlikely fashion.

The Huskies are the second No. 7 seed ever to reach the national semifinals. Virginia made it in 1984 and lost to Houston.

What were the keys to the win on Sunday?

Star Watch: Napier reminiscent of Walker
The last two players to lead their team to a Final Four while scoring or assisting on at least 45% of their team’s points in the tournament are Shabazz Napier and Kemba Walker, both from Connecticut.

Napier scored 25 points and was 9 for 9 from the free-throw line. The last player to score that much and shoot that well at the free throw line was Christian Laettner for Duke against Kentucky in the game in which Laettner was perfect from the field and free throw line and hit the buzzer-beating game-winner.

Huskies limit Spartans in the paint
Michigan State scored six points in the paint, 14 fewer than its previous season low and the second fewest for any team in the last five Men’s Basketball Championships (Butler scored two vs Connecticut in 2011).

The Spartans’ eight field-goal attempts in the paint are the fewest for any team in the last five tournaments.

Branden Dawson scored two points in the paint on 1-of-2 shooting. Entering Sunday, he was leading the tournament with 48 points in the paint.

Michigan State’s half-court offense did not have a good day. . In half-court offense, the Spartans had four more turnovers than they had field goals.

Huskies make their free throws
Connecticut was 21 for 22 from the free-throw line, including 7 for 7 in the final five minutes.

For the tournament, the Huskies are 55 for 60 (92 percent) at the free throw line in the final 5 minutes of the second half/overtime.

Connecticut is currently 81-92 (88 percent) from the free throw line in the tournament. The team record for free-throw percentage in a single NCAA tournament (minimum three games) is 87 percent by St. John's in 1969.

Top stats to know: Sunday's Elite 8 games

March, 30, 2014
Mar 30
The Elite Eight continues Sunday with two more games. Here are some of the statistical storylines we’ll be following.

No. 7 Connecticut Huskies vs. No. 4 Michigan State Spartans
The winner of this 2009 national semifinal rematch will head to the Final Four in North Texas next weekend.

To reach their first Final Four since 2011, the Huskies will have to slow down the Spartans fast-break offense. Michigan State averages 18.5 transition points per game (16th in country) and has scored 54 points on the break in three tournament games.

Connecticut excelled in transition defense during the regular season, holding opponents to just 11.4 transition points per game. However, its three opponents in the tourney have averaged 14.7 points per game in transition, including a total of 37 points in the last two contests.

Both teams can light it up from beyond the arc, ranking among the nation’s top 20 in 3-point percentage this season.

The Huskies are 13-0 when making at least eight 3-point shots; the Spartans are 13-1 when making at least 10 3-pointers.

So which team will be able to defend the perimeter better? It appears to be a toss-up. The Spartans and Huskies both allow teams to make a third of their 3-point shots for the entire season, and both teams have been worse than that lately, with opponents shooting 36 percent from distance in March.

No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats vs. No. 2 Michigan Wolverines
The Wildcats' talented group of freshmen appears to be peaking at the right time as Kentucky goes for its third Final Four berth in the last four seasons. What has made Kentucky look like the team it was expected to be when it was picked as the preseason No. 1?

Kentucky has won its last two games because it has executed down the stretch in "clutch time."

In the last five minutes and the score within five points, Kentucky outscored Louisville and Wichita State by 12 points. During the regular season, Kentucky was outscored by 13 points in those situations.

In their last two games, the Wildcats are shooting 56 percent and haven't committed a single turnover in clutch time.

Another key has been the improved play of the Harrison twins -- Andrew and Aaron -- in the NCAA tournament. With both Harrisons on the court, Kentucky has outscored its opponents by 29 points. With at least one of them off the court, they have been outscored by 15.

Kentucky’s offense the entire season has been built on its ability to grab offensive boards and draw fouls down low. The Wildcats rank second in the country in offensive rebound percentage and average 29.5 free throw attempts per game, fifth in the country.

The Wolverines have been susceptible on the boards this season, ranking 105th in defensive rebounding percentage. Yet Michigan does a good job of defending without fouling, allowing the fewest free throw attempts per game in the country (14.8).

Consider these stats: Michigan has allowed 18 or fewer free throw attempts in 11 straight games heading into this game; Kentucky has attempted fewer than 18 free throws only once this season, and the Wildcats lost that game against LSU.

Katie Sharp contributed to this post.

Top stats to know: Friday's Sweet 16

March, 28, 2014
Mar 28
The Sweet 16 continues tonight with four games. Here are some of the statistical storylines we’ll be following.

(11) Tennessee vs (2) Michigan
The Wolverines are trying to reach a second straight Elite 8 (lost in title game last year to Louisville). Tennessee has been to just one Elite 8 in its history, when it lost to Michigan State in 2010.

Michigan's hot outside shooting has carried the team in its first two wins. The Wolverines are 21 of 45 from beyond the arc and have made 50 percent of their jump shots, second-best among tournament teams.

Over its last nine games (during which it has gone 8-1) Tennessee has held its opponents to just 26.6 percent shooting on 3-pointers and 27 percent on jump shots.

(8) Kentucky vs (4) Louisville
Get ready for another epic showdown of these Bluegrass state rivals. This is the fourth time in NCAA Tournament history that the previous two national champions will play against each other in the NCAA Tournament.

In each of the three previous occurrences, the defending champion has defeated champion from the previous season.

There will be two key matchups to watch in this game.

The first one is on the offensive glass. The Wildcats rank second in the country in offensive rebound percentage and average 15.6 second-chance points per game, the best among major conferences.

Louisville is not a great defensive rebounding team, ranking 241st in the nation, and was outscored 17-6 in second-chance points by Kentucky in their meeting on Dec. 28.

The other key matchup is whether Kentucky can handle Louisville's pressure defense, which forces 17.4 turnovers per game, the second-most in the country. Louisville is 19-0 this season when forcing 17 or more turnovers; Kentucky is 16-2 when committing 11 or fewer turnovers.

(7) Connecticut vs (3) Iowa State
The only other time these two teams met in the NCAA Tournament was in a Round of 64 win by the Cyclones in 2012. That was Jim Calhoun's final game.

With Georges Niang out for Iowa State and Connecticut lacking a dominant post offense, this game could come down to who executes better on the perimeter.

Iowa State ranks in the top 25 in 3-point attempts per game and 3-pointers made per game this season, while UConn ranks 22nd in the country in 3-point field goal percentage.

Both teams allow their opponents to make more than a third of their shots from beyond the arc, though the Huskies do a better job of limiting 3-point attempts (18.3 per game) than the Cyclones (21.2).

(4) Michigan State vs (1) Virginia
Virginia is hoping to avoid the fate of another recent first-place ACC squad. Last year Miami was the regular-season and postseason ACC champs, and they lost in the Sweet 16 vs Marquette.

The Michigan State seniors are trying to avoid making history as well. Every four-year player under coach Tom Izzo has reached the Final Four, and this is the last chance for Adreian Payne and Keith Appling to make it.

The key matchup to watch in this game will be whether Virginia can slow down the Spartans' fastbreak offense.

Transition makes up 21.9 percent of Michigan State’s offensive plays, the eighth-highest rate in the country, and the Spartans average 18.9 transition points per game, 14th-most in the nation. Virginia allows 7.4 transition points per game, third-fewest in the nation, and only 10.9 percent of Virginia’s defensive plays are transition, the fifth-lowest rate in the country.

'Modified' BPI lifts Florida, Michigan State

March, 19, 2014
Mar 19

Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsFlorida has been nearly unbeatable with Scottie Wilbekin in the lineup.
A few of the top teams heading into the NCAA Tournament have had inconsistent lineups throughout the season. This includes Final Four contenders such as overall 1-seed Florida, West region 1-seed Arizona, a talented Kansas squad and the title pick of seemingly every ESPN expert, Michigan State.

Much of the talk around these teams and their chances of advancement has to do with who’s available now as opposed to who played in the games to this point. In the case of Arizona and Kansas, the absence of a key player suggests that their advancement prospects are lower than they would be if those players were available. With Michigan State and Florida, their performance in games in which they have had their current “full strength” lineups suggests that they are likely to perform better than what their overall season performances suggest. But just how much better or worse are these teams’ chances as a result of these lineup changes?

One of the flexible components of ESPN's Basketball Power Index (BPI) is that it can be used to measure how a team has performed with or without a particular player or group of players in the lineup. While the overall season BPI de-weights games in which a key player – defined as one of the team’s top five players in terms of minutes per game – was out of the lineup, a potentially more revealing exercise is to isolate the team’s BPI in those games with or without the player(s) of interest.

Taking it one step further, the BPI-based projections of the NCAA Tournament (as explained here with the full-season ratings) can be run with a team’s “modified” BPI to look at how the change might affect the prospects of the team – and other teams competing for the same spots in the tournament – going forward. Let’s take a look at each of these four teams individually and assess how the performance of the lineup they have going into the tournament could change their chances of reaching the Sweet 16, making the Final Four and eventually being crowned champions April 7.

Arizona Without Brandon Ashley
Heading into February, Arizona was 21-0 and the No. 1 team in the country. But in a game at California on Feb. 1, Arizona lost not only its perfect record but also starting forward Brandon Ashley with a season-ending foot injury.

The Wildcats have gone 9-4 since Ashley went down, including the loss at Cal. But that drop-off in record is a bit misleading, given a stronger Pac-12 schedule down the stretch, and the fact each of those losses came by seven points or fewer, away from home and to a quality opponent. Arizona’s BPI in those games was an 88.9 – not as high as its 91.1 for the entire season, but still a high number that would be second to Florida in the overall season ratings.

That drop-off is enough to hurt Sean Miller’s team’s advancement chances. As you can see below, Arizona’s chances of reaching each subsequent weekend of the tournament and winning the whole thing drop by about 10 percentage points each when assuming the Wildcats’ post-Ashley performance going forward.

This would be enough to take the Wildcats from the BPI favorite to win the national championship to a clear second-favorite behind Florida. But it’s not enough to discount them as a title contender altogether, as it seems some are doing (Arizona is picked to win the title in less than eight percent of Tournament Challenge entries).

Kansas (Possibly) Without Joel Embiid
Another noteworthy injury situation for a top team involves the back issues that have plagued Kansas center and projected NBA lottery pick Joel Embiid. This has forced Embiid to miss five recent games, giving a small but still interesting sample from which to evaluate the Jayhawks’ performance without their biggest interior presence.

Kansas is 3-2 in those games with the losses coming at West Virginia and in the Big 12 tournament against Iowa State. The Jayhawks’ BPI in those games is 81.3, a substantial decrease from their season rating of 87.4. This difference corresponds to about 5.5 net points per 100 possessions and drops the Jayhawks’ chances to less than a coin flip even to make the Sweet 16.

While this non-Embiid forecast makes it seem quite unlikely that the Jayhawks will be heading to North Texas, much less winning games there, two things are worth keeping in mind. First, the five-game sample without Embiid is small, so it’s certainly possible that Andrew Wiggins and his other talented teammates could be better without him than that 81.3 BPI suggests. And second, unlike with Arizona's Ashley, there is a chance that Embiid will return at some point in the tournament, and that would obviously boost Kansas’ advancement prospects.

“Healthy” Michigan State
Starters Gary Harris, Keith Appling, Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson have each missed at least three games this season, with all four of those key players being available for only half of Michigan State’s 34 games this season. The Spartans were 14-3 with an 87.8 BPI in those games, including the run to the Big Ten tournament title last weekend. That’s a bit higher than their 84.9 BPI for the season and bumps up their chances of making the Sweet 16 and Final Four by about 10 percentage points each.

While having the full lineup is obviously a benefit to Tom Izzo, it’s important to note the magnitude of the difference is not overwhelming. According to BPI projections, Michigan State would still have only a 1-in-4 shot to make the Final Four and a seven percent chance of taking home the trophy.

Those numbers suggest that the experts who are picking the Spartans to win it all on the basis of their improved health are likely vastly overrating their chances. In fact, there’s another team that has its full lineup entering the tournament that might be a much stronger bet …

Florida with All of Its Top Players
SEC player of the year Scottie Wilbekin missed the team’s first five games (Dorian Finney-Smith also missed the first two), and Casey Prather missed two January games. In the other 27 games, Florida was 26-1 with the loss coming at Connecticut on Shabazz Napier’s buzzer-beater in December.

Florida’s season BPI is already quite impressive at 90.6, but that rises to 91.8 when isolating those 27 games. Suppose you combine that with the weaker projections for the Gators’ potential Elite Eight opponent in Kansas and their biggest national title competition (according to BPI) in Arizona based on those teams’ injuries. Even with a stronger Michigan State as discussed above, Billy Donovan’s squad becomes by far the most likely Final Four participant and national champion in this scenario.

Now, this modified projection certainly involves three “pro-Gator” assumptions (Arizona is slightly weaker without Ashley, Kansas is a good bit worse without Embiid and Florida really is that good with its full lineup), but given the circumstances, it might be more representative than the full-season BPI projections. And if that’s the case, the Gators are probably the best bet both to make it to North Texas and to cut down the nets there in a couple weeks.

Filling a bracket, with BPI's insight

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18

Ralph Freso/Getty ImagesBehind Nick Johnson, Arizona is No. 1 in BPI and the most likely team to win the NCAA championship.
While ESPN’s Basketball Power Index wasn’t designed to be purely predictive, there has been interest in using BPI to help with picking NCAA Tournament brackets. It’s one thing to just look at the BPI rankings and pick the higher-ranked team to win each matchup. If you do that this year, you end up with a pretty chalky bracket with all four No. 1 seeds making the Final Four and Arizona over Florida in the title game.

A more nuanced way to look at things, however, is to determine the percentage chance of each team getting to each round. This can help not only by taking into account the effects of opponent strength round-by-round (beyond just “better BPI”), but it also helps illuminate what might be considered smart upset picks and undervalued or overvalued teams.

With so much randomness in a single-elimination tournament, it’s important to know how certain (or uncertain) you should be as you fill out each line of your bracket.

With the BPI game prediction calculation we’ve used throughout the year, each possible tournament matchup can be projected using each team’s current BPI. After calculating the individual matchup probabilities and accounting for every possible way the tournament could unfold, the probability of each team reaching any given round can be found.

Below are the 12 teams with at least a 10 percent chance of making the Final Four this year, along with their percentage chances of going beyond that.

The chart shows that although the most likely Final Four according to BPI consists of the four No. 1 seeds, the likelihood of all four of them getting to North Texas is 1.3 percent.

The most likely scenario is that only one of the No. 1 seeds makes it, as has been the case in each of the last two seasons.

The East is the most “open” region with each of the top four seeds having between a 14 percent and 27 percent chance of making the Final Four. The West is the most lopsided, with Arizona’s 47 percent chance much better than 2-seed Wisconsin’s 13 percent.

Although Arizona is the “BPI favorite” to win the title, keep in mind that there is nearly a 4-in-5 chance that another team will win it. The fact that the top teams are a bit closer together this year and the randomness of a single-elimination tournament make the field a much better bet than any single team to make the Final Four, and certainly to win the championship.

Finding value
If you compare these values to what the public is picking in’s Tournament Challenge, you can find “value” picks or teams to avoid. For example:

• Villanova has a 24 percent chance of making it to the Final Four. Less than 10 percent of the public is picking the Wildcats to get there, which might make them an undervalued selection.

• Conversely, Michigan State has a 15 percent chance of making the Final Four. Even if Michigan State’s BPI rank of ninth understates the team's true quality going forward, it’s unlikely the Spartans are as high as 44 percent likely to make it to North Texas, which is the rate at which the public is picking them.

• Florida’s chances of making it to the Sweet 16 and beyond are significantly overestimated by the public, with the Gators being picked 94 percent of the time to reach the South Regional in Memphis, Tenn., 62 percent of the time to reach North Texas and 28 percent of the time to win it all.

To get to the Final Four, the Gators could face an underrated Pittsburgh team in the Round of 32 and might have to beat a strong Kansas team for the second time this season in the Elite Eight, so BPI doesn’t see their advancement to be as likely as fans do.

Keep in mind that this system is based on Selection Sunday BPI and the structure of the bracket itself. It has no additional factors included and is not fit to past years’ data or anything like that as would be done in a traditional predictive model.

Given this and the fact BPI isn’t designed to predict the tournament, this fairly simple projection has performed pretty well the past couple of years.

Why Louisville & MSU should be No. 1 seeds

March, 16, 2014
Mar 16
It seems clear that Arizona, Florida and Wichita State will receive No. 1 seeds. But which team should be the 4th No. 1 seed?

Are choosing No. 1 seeds about who the best four teams are? Or are they about selecting the best 4 resumes using RPI data?

Using RPI data, Louisville doesn't have the best resume based solely on quality wins.

But there's certainly an argument that Louisville is one of the best four teams in college basketball, maybe even the best team.

Louisville has the best net efficiency in the country. Net efficiency is the difference in offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) and defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions).

The Cardinals are the only team that ranks in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

Louisville ranks No. 4 in BPI, which takes into account scoring margin, opponent strength, pace, location and key players missing.

The Cardinals also rank No. 2 in KenPom rating. They rank in the top 10 in both adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency, which take into account opponent strength.

Louisville has 19 wins by at least 20 points this season. No other team has more than 15 such wins.

The Cardinals have no bad losses, something that can't be said for Duke, Michigan and Villanova. Each of Louisville's five losses are by single digits against teams ranked in the top 50 in both BPI and RPI.

It's often mentioned that the NCAA selection committee evaluates how a team performs at full strength -- if that team is entering the NCAA Tournament at full strength.

If that's true, then Michigan State should be a No. 1 seed if it wins the Big Ten Tournament.

Michigan State is 13-3 with all of its key players (defined as top five players in minutes per game among players who have played at least half of their team's games): Keith Appling, Gary Harris, Denzel Valentine, Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne.

Michigan State has the fifth-best BPI of any team with all of its key players.

The Spartans are 20-3 with Branden Dawson in the lineup (5-5 without him). Their only three losses with Dawson in the lineup are North Carolina, Illinois and Ohio State.

With all of their key players, the Spartans are 6-2 against the BPI top 50 and 8-3 against the BPI top 100.

Kansas, Arizona, Florida and Wichita State are the only teams that rank in the top five in RPI, BPI and KenPom.

Kansas has the No. 1 overall strength of schedule, the No. 1 non-conference strength of schedule, the most RPI top-50 wins of any team (12) and the most RPI top-100 wins (18).

The Jayhawks have no losses outside the RPI top 100.

Michigan has 10 wins against the RPI top 50. Only Kansas (12) and Arizona (11) have more.

If Virginia and Florida don't win their conference tournaments, Michigan could be the only "major conference" team to win its regular-season conference title outright and its conference tournament.

Duke has five wins against the RPI top 25, the most of any team. The Blue Devils have a head-to-head win against Michigan, another team competing for a No. 1 seed. They also have wins against Virginia and Syracuse.

Villanova has 16 wins against the RPI top 100. Only Kansas (18), Arizona (17) and Wisconsin (17) have more. The Wildcats have a head-to-head win against Kansas, another team that could potentially receive a No. 1 seed.

Looking at tournaments through BPI

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12

AP Photo/Gerry BroomeESPN's BPI likes Duke's chances of winning the ACC tournament, but they could face tough competition along the way.
Duke has the best chance of winning the ACC men’s basketball tournament, according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, but the Blue Devils don’t have the greatest likelihood of making it to the ACC semifinals.

Oregon has the second-best BPI rating in the Pac-12, but four other teams have a greater probability of reaching the semifinals of that conference’s tournament.

In projecting the results of conference tournaments, a team’s BPI rating doesn’t tell the entire story.

To project the likelihood of each team reaching and winning in a particular round, BPI takes into account how challenging the tournament has been for a team to that point. That aspect of the BPI calculations leads to interesting projections that might seem counterintuitive in light of teams’ BPI ratings.

In the ACC, for example, BPI No. 7 Duke has the greatest projected likelihood of winning the tournament. But No. 10 Syracuse has a slightly greater likelihood of reaching the ACC tournament semifinals (82 percent) than the Blue Devils (81 percent) as well as regular-season champion and No. 8 Virginia (74 percent).

All three of these teams (as well as fourth-seeded North Carolina) receive byes to the quarterfinals. In that round, based on BPI projections, the Orange are most likely to play North Carolina State (71st in the BPI rankings), whereas Duke and Virginia are projected to have quarterfinal opponents ranking in the BPI Top 60.

There is not much difference in the projected championship chances for the top three teams. The Blue Devils have a 27 percent probability compared to Virginia’s 25 percent and Syracuse’s 23 percent.

Extra game has cost
In the Pac-12, only BPI No. 1 Arizona has a higher ranking than No. 16 Oregon. The Ducks finished in a five-way tie for third place in the standings and are seeded seventh in the tournament, which forces them to play a first-round game.

That extra matchup helps reduce Oregon’s chances of reaching the semifinals to 43 percent. BPI No. 21 UCLA has the greatest likelihood of reaching the semifinals in that quadrant of the bracket (53 percent) and is the second-most likely Pac-12 tournament champion, with a 10 percent chance, compared with Arizona’s 63 percent.

An important 'if' for Big 12
BPI No. 4 Kansas has a 49 percent probability of reaching the Big 12 tournament final and a 37 percent chance of winning the tournament, making the Jayhawks the favorites in Kansas City, Mo.

BPI No. 17 Iowa State, on the same side of the bracket as the Jayhawks, has a 28 percent chance of playing for the tournament title – compared with 42 percent for lower-ranked Oklahoma, which is in the other half of the bracket. Should Iowa State reach the final, however, the Cyclones would have a 56 percent chance of beating BPI No. 24 Oklahoma.

The projections for Kansas reflect the team’s performance through the entire season and don’t take into account Joel Embiid’s back injury (which will keep him out of the conference tournament). In the three games Embiid missed, Kansas’ BPI was 85.0, compared to its 88.4 rating for the season. If that’s representative of the Jayhawks’ true level of play without Embiid, it’s enough to drop their chances to win to 24 percent, behind Oklahoma (29 percent) and slightly ahead of Iowa State (21 percent).

Big Ten projections
The Big Ten tournament projections demonstrate how BPI looks beyond wins and losses to gauge the power of teams. Michigan won the regular-season conference championship by three games, but the Wolverines are the third favorite to win the conference tournament based on BPI projections.

Wisconsin, which ranks ninth in BPI and tied for second place in the Big Ten standings, has a 26 percent likelihood of winning the conference tournament. BPI No. 14 Ohio State has a 19 percent likelihood of winning, fractionally better than No. 22 Michigan.

Not far behind is BPI No. 13 Michigan State, which has a 17 percent likelihood of winning the conference tournament.

Duke likely to beat UNC, BPI says

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7

AP Photo/Gerry BroomeESPN's Basketball Power Index gives Jabari Parker and the Duke Blue Devils a 77 percent chance of winning against North Carolina Saturday.

ESPN’s Basketball Power Index rates teams using a system that takes into account factors such as the pace of a game, margin of victory, game site and absence of key players.

In addition, BPI can be used to make projections of each team’s chance of winning a specific matchup. The team with the higher chance to win according to BPI has won about 73 percent of the time this season.

Here is a preview of five matchups for the final weekend of the regular season, examined using information produced by BPI (through games of March 6):

BPI No. 27 North Carolina at 9 Duke (9 PM Saturday, ESPN)
BPI Projection:
Duke 77 percent likely to win

is coming off its worst performance of the season based on BPI Game Score, a 37 (on a 0-to-100 scale) in its 82-72 loss at Wake Forest on Wednesday. That game was two months after Wake Forest beat North Carolina 73-67.

North Carolina has won 12 games in succession, but the three most recent victories (by one point over North Carolina State, four points over Virginia Tech and two points over Notre Dame) were against opponents outside the BPI Top 70 and earned Game Scores in the high 70s, compared with Game Scores in the 90s for the first nine games of the Tar Heels’ streak.

The Blue Devils have the third-best home-court BPI this season (behind Kansas and Arizona), whereas North Carolina ranks 34th in road BPI.

BPI No. 44 Baylor at 49 Kansas State (1:30 PM Saturday, ESPN3)
BPI Projection
: Kansas State 62 percent likely to win

Kansas State would be the first team out if current BPI ratings determined the NCAA field; Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology has the Wildcats as a No. 8 seed. Baylor, a No. 9 seed in Bracketology, is the fifth-lowest team in BPI currently projected for a tournament spot.

What does home court mean to Kansas State? In their six Big 12 series against opponents in the BPI Top 60, the Wildcats have won at home and lost on the road. These teams played Feb. 15 in Waco, Texas, where Baylor won 87-73 in two overtimes. Since losing to Oklahoma on Feb. 8, Baylor has been 6-1 (six of the games against Top 100 teams) with all six wins earning BPI Game Scores of at least 94.

BPI No. 17 Pittsburgh at 52 Clemson (4 PM Saturday, ESPN3)
BPI Projection:
Pittsburgh 57 percent likely to win

Clemson would be the third team out of the NCAA field, if it were determined solely on current BPI ratings. Although the Tigers have two losses to teams outside the BPI Top 100 (Wake Forest and Auburn), they were by a combined seven points. This game represents a chance for them to improve on their 3-7 record against BPI Top 50 teams.

Pittsburgh, unranked in The Associated Press poll and a projected No. 10 seed in Bracketology, would be a No. 5 seed if the NCAA field were determined by current BPI ratings. The disparity arises in part from factors BPI considers, such as final scoring margin; five of the Panthers’ losses to Top 30 teams have been by a combined 15 points.

BPI No. 10 Kentucky at 2 Florida (12 PM Saturday)
BPI Projection:
Florida 78 percent likely to win

In their first meeting, Florida won by 10 in a relatively slow 59-possession game in Lexington, Ky. That game earned the Gators a 99.3 Game Score, their second-best of the season. Florida has the fourth-best home-court BPI this season.

Although Kentucky is 3-2 since that Feb. 15 loss to Florida, the losses were by a combined nine points. Eight-loss Kentucky is No. 25 in the AP poll and a seven seed in Bracketology. Of the Wildcats’ losses, all but the one to Florida have been by five points or fewer.

BPI No. 14 Michigan State at 16 Ohio State (4:30 PM Sunday)
BPI Projection:
Ohio State 64 percent likely to win

Of its 30 games, Michigan State has been at full strength for 13, the fewest of any BPI Top 75 team.

Considering games when teams have been at full strength (having all five of its top players based on minutes played), the Spartans rank seventh in BPI. Michigan State is first and Ohio State second among BPI Top 20 teams as measured by inconsistency.

In their last six games, the Buckeyes have had three Game Scores of less than 70 and three greater than 93.

Duke projected to beat Syracuse, BPI says

February, 21, 2014
Feb 21

AP Photo/Nick LisiAccording to BPI, Duke is a 62 percent favorite to beat Syracuse and avenge their Feb. loss.
ESPN’s Basketball Power Index rates teams using a system that takes into account factors such as the pace of a game, margin of victory, game site and absence of key players.

In addition, BPI can be used to make projections of each team’s chance of winning a specific matchup. The team with the higher chance to win according to BPI has won about 73 percent of the time this season.

Here is a preview of five of this weekend’s matchups, examined using information produced by BPI:

BPI No. 4 Syracuse at No. 9 Duke (7 PM Saturday, ESPN)
BPI Projection:
Duke 62 percent likely to win

Duke’s loss Thursday at No. 28 North Carolina resulted in the Blue Devils’ falling from fifth to ninth in the BPI rankings. Syracuse comes off its shocking loss to BPI No. 147 Boston College on Wednesday (which earned the Orange their worst Game Score, 40, of the season).

BPI No. 15 Wisconsin at No. 8 Iowa (12 PM Saturday, ESPN2)
BPI Projection:
Iowa 68 percent likely to win

All six of Iowa’s losses have come to BPI Top 30 teams, two in overtime. The Hawkeyes rank fourth among BPI Top 10 teams in consistency. The less-consistent Badgers have been beaten five times, including by No. 69 Indiana and No. 126 Northwestern. BPI roughly corresponds with The Associated Press poll in evaluating Wisconsin (No. 16 in the poll) but regards Iowa (AP No. 15) more highly.

BPI No. 6 Louisville at No. 24 Cincinnati (12 PM Saturday, CBS)
BPI Projection:
Louisville 52 percent likely to win

The AP poll has Cincinnati seventh and Louisville 11th. Louisville’s four losses have come to BPI Top 40 teams, by an average of 6.3 points. The Bearcats have three losses, by an average of 15.7 points, to BPI Nos. 30, 36 and 42. Cincinnati is 6-0 in games decided by five points or fewer (including a 69-66 win at Louisville on Jan. 30), which is part of the reason the Bearcats’ BPI ranking is lower than their record alone might suggest.

BPI No. 22 San Diego State at No. 36 New Mexico (10 PM Saturday, ESPN2)
BPI Projection:
New Mexico 57 percent likely to win

This is the first meeting of the season between the teams. San Diego State would be 72 percent likely to win if the teams were playing at the Aztecs’ home, which they will in their regular-season finale March 8. San Diego State’s strength of schedule ranks third-easiest among BPI Top 25 teams (ahead of No. 6 Louisville and No. 7 Wichita State). The Aztecs are 8-2 against Top 100 teams, including wins over No. 3 Kansas and No. 10 Creighton. New Mexico is 8-5 against BPI Top 100 teams.

BPI No. 13 Michigan State at No. 26 Michigan (12 PM Sunday, CBS)
BPI Projection:
Michigan 52 percent likely to win

Michigan’s 80-75 victory over Michigan State on Jan. 25 started the Spartans on a 4-4 slide that has helped drop them from No. 4 in the BPI rankings to their current spot. Michigan is the second-most inconsistent team in the BPI Top 30; in their five most recent games, the Wolverines have had two Game Scores of 99 or better and three of less than 50.

BPI Talk: Why Florida is the best team

February, 18, 2014
Feb 18
Which team is the best team in college basketball? And how do we really measure that?

Syracuse is No. 1 in the AP Poll, but that is based on the subjective votes of media members.

Arizona is No. 1 in BPI and Kansas is No. 1 in RPI. But those metrics are based on formulas that factor in a team’s performance through the entire season.

The more insightful question is: Which team is the best with the roster we think each team will have in the NCAA Tournament?

For most teams, that's their current roster, but there are a few exceptions.

To evaluate that, we'll use each team's BPI with all of its key players. Those key players are defined as the five players who average the most minutes per game among players who have played at least half of the team's games. Games in which a key player played less than 10 minutes due to injury or foul trouble or any other reason are not included.

Florida reigns supreme
Based on this metric, the Florida Gators are the best team in college basketball.

With their current roster -- with Scott Wilbekin, Casey Prather, Michael Frazier II, Patric Young and Dorian Finney-Smith in the lineup together -- they are 17-1, with their only loss coming by one point to UConn on a buzzer-beater by Shabazz Napier.

Undefeated Syracuse comes in at No. 2, followed by Kansas at No. 3.

A healthy Michigan State is dangerous
Michigan State is expected to have Branden Dawson back for the NCAA Tournament. Based on Dawson’s returning, the Spartans would rank fourth with their full squad.

That's a significant jump from their overall No. 15 BPI rank. They've lost four of seven games since Dawson went out.

In their two games with all of their key players except Dawson, the Spartans have a 61.1 BPI (win against New Orleans, loss to Nebraska), which would rank well below any team expected to get an at-large bid. That’s how important a healthy Dawson could be to their chances of going deep in the NCAA Tournament.

Is Iowa a top-5 team?
Based on this metric, the Iowa Hawkeyes are No. 5. They're 18-4 with their full squad.

Jarrod Uthoff has played at least 10 minutes in all but two games (at Michigan and against Ohio State). Iowa lost both.

Arizona isn't top 10 without Brandon Ashley
The Arizona Wildcats have been a much different team without Brandon Ashley, who is expected to miss the rest of the season.

Based on this metric, the Wildcats are No. 13. They're 2-2 without Ashley. That includes losses at California and at Arizona State and a two-point home win against Oregon.

Arizona has the No. 1 BPI with Ashley in the lineup, but it's a different story without him. Ashley could be the difference between Arizona being the National Championship favorite and not even contending for a Final Four berth.

What about Oklahoma State and North Carolina?
Although Michael Cobbins isn't among the top-five Oklahoma State players in minutes per game, the Cowboys are a much different team without him. Their BPI without Cobbins but with Marcus Smart ranks 33rd in this metric among teams currently in the BPI top 40.

Oklahoma State is 4-6 without Cobbins and with Smart, with two wins against West Virginia and home wins against Texas and TCU.

North Carolina's current roster includes Leslie McDonald, who was ruled eligible Dec. 18 after he missed the first nine games of the season. Since then, the Tar Heels' current roster has the worst BPI of any team currently in the BPI top 40.

The Tar Heels are ranked No. 32 overall in BPI, but their three best wins of the season -- against Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky -- came without McDonald.

Since McDonald returned, they have losses to Wake Forest and Miami (FL) and didn't have a BPI top-50 win before Saturday's victory against Pittsburgh.

Villanova, Michigan St take big hits in BPI

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17

AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson
Head Coach Jay Wright and Villanova lost to Creighton Sunday, dropping them to No. 10 in BPI.

Villanova and Michigan State absorbed solid hits to their Basketball Power Index ratings after suffering emphatic losses Sunday.

Villanova was fifth in the BPI rankings before a 101-80 loss to Creighton, and now the Wildcats are 10th.

The Bluejays climbed from No. 14 in the BPI rankings to No. 11 after their second dominant victory this season over Villanova. Creighton scored a 99.6 on the BPI game score scale Sunday, the fourth-best of the season across all games. On Jan. 20, Creighton beat the Wildcats 96-68 in Philadelphia and earned a game score of 99.9, the best of the season.

Michigan State’s 60-51 loss to Nebraska in East Lansing, Mich., dropped the Spartans from sixth to 15th in the BPI rankings. Michigan State averaged 0.88 points per possession, its worst offensive efficiency in the last two seasons. The Spartans’ game score of 33 was a season low for the team.

Two dramatic victories last week kept Syracuse undefeated, but the most recent win – 56-55 over North Carolina State on Saturday at the Carrier Dome – resulted in the Orange falling from No. 2 to No. 3 in BPI.

Unlike many polls in which humans determine rankings with their ballots – and teams that win often retain their positions, regardless of how unimpressive a win might be – BPI evaluates each team’s performance in every game to produce its ratings.

Although Syracuse beat the Wolfpack, its performance was among its worst of the season. The one-point home victory over a team ranked 69th in BPI resulted in a game score of 78, the Orange’s worst against an ACC opponent and their fourth-worst of the season.

Florida, which was No. 3, took over the No. 2 spot. The Gators beat Kentucky 69-59 in Lexington, Ky., in a game with 59 possessions (the Gators average 65 possessions). The 10-point win in a relatively low-possession game helped produce a game score of 99.4 for Florida, its second-best of the season behind the 99.5 from a 67-41 win over Tennessee on Jan. 25.

Saturday’s loss dropped the Wildcats from No. 5 in BPI to No. 8 after their worst BPI game score (59) of the season (Kentucky rose to No. 7 after Villanova's loss Sunday).

Looking ahead
Using BPI ratings, we can assign a “Matchup Quality” factor for every game. This is a 0-to-100 rating that measures how good each team is as well as how close the two teams’ ratings are to each other. Based on BPI Matchup Quality, the following are among the most appealing matchups in the coming week (in chronological order):

BPI No. 1 Arizona at No. 39 Utah, 10 p.m. Wednesday (FS1)
Matchup Quality:
84 | Arizona 77 percent likely to win
Arizona has been BPI No. 1 since Jan. 12, retaining the top spot even after a loss (in double overtime, on the road) to Arizona State on Feb. 14. Utah spent much of the season with a BPI rank in the 40s and has a victory over BPI No. 12 UCLA in January among its achievements.

BPI No. 5 Duke at No. 33 North Carolina, 9 p.m. Thursday (ESPN)
Matchup Quality:
83 | Duke 58 percent likely to win
Other games have a slightly superior matchup quality, but the Blue Devils and the Tar Heels have been among the most powerful teams in the past month.

BPI No. 14 Wisconsin at No. 8 Iowa, 12 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2)
Matchup Quality:
87 | Iowa 68 percent likely to win
Iowa is the fifth-most consistent team in the BPI Top 10, whereas Wisconsin is the fourth-most inconsistent in the BPI Top 25. Wisconsin won the first matchup 75-71 in Madison, Wis., on Jan. 5

BPI No. 3 Syracuse at No. 5 Duke, 7 p.m. Saturday (ESPN)
Matchup Quality:
89 | Duke 55 percent likely to win
This is a rematch of Syracuse’s 91-89 overtime win over Duke on Feb. 1. The Blue Devils’ 89.5 game score from the game is the fourth-greatest for a losing team this season. BPI projects this as Syracuse’s only remaining regular-season game with the Orange having less than a 50 percent likelihood of winning.

Michigan wins third straight vs. top-10 team

January, 25, 2014
Jan 25
The Michigan Wolverines continued their recent run, winning on the road against in-state rival No. 3 Michigan State.

With the win against the third-ranked team in the nation, Michigan became the first school to win three straight regular season games all against top-10 schools since Iowa in January 1987, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

That year, the Hawkeyes defeated No. 8 Illinois, No. 5 Purdue and No. 3 Indiana.

And keep in mind, prior to Jan. 18, Michigan hadn't won a road game at a top-five opponent since 1964, when it won at fifth-ranked Duke.

The Wolverines had lost 36 straight road games at top-five opponents since then. But in the last week, they have defeated a pair of top-five teams -- No. 3 Wisconsin last week and third-ranked Michigan State on Saturday.

Two areas helped key the Wolverines victory: second-chance points and slowing the Spartans in transition.

Michigan scored 15 second-chance points, the most allowed by Michigan State this season. Michigan came into the game averaging 9.8 second-chance points per game, third fewest in the Big Ten.

And after allowing 11 points in transition in the first half, Michigan held the Spartans to five transition points in the second half. Entering Saturday, Michigan had allowed 10.5 points in transition per game on the season.

Michigan has won nine straight overall after a 6-4 start, and is the lone remaining undefeated team in Big Ten play at 7-0.

Nik Stauskas and Derrick Walton Jr. led the way for Michigan with 19 points each. It was a notable outburst for Stauskas, who totaled just 10 points in his previous two career games against Michigan State.

Stauskas scored 12 of his 19 points off catch-and-shoot field goals Saturday, making four of five such shots. Coming into the game, Stauskas had made 49 percent of catch-and-shoot attempts, fourth in the Big Ten (minimum 20 attempts).

Michigan improved to 20-1 the past two seasons when Stauskas (who made 7 of 12 from the field) makes at least half of his field goal attempts.

Key to OSU-MSU: Transition game

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
For the first time in series history, Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan State Spartans will meet as top-5 opponents (9 p.m. ET tonight on ESPN).

The AP Poll isn't the only ranking with both teams in the top five.

When the Buckeyes and Spartans meet tonight, the key matchup could be in transition.

Michigan State's transition offense ranks third in the country with 24.3 points per game. Ohio State's transition defense allows just 7.4 points per game, fourth-fewest of any team.

Michigan State transition offense
The Spartans transition offense is led by Gary Harris (6.2 PPG) and Keith Appling (5.3 PPG), who lead the Big Ten in transition scoring.

Michigan State looks to push the ball quickly and often, whether it's off a missed shot, a made shot, or a turnover. The Spartans average 21.5 transition plays per game, the third-most in the country.

Much of their success in transition has to do with their ability to finish well around the basket. The Spartans are shooting 63 percent at the rim this season, eight-best among all teams.

Here's an example of a successful Michigan State transition play and how it transpired:

1. Against Kentucky, Branden Dawson grabbed a defensive rebound in the middle of the paint. Once Dawson secured the rebound, it's evident that all five Kentucky players were turned towards the ball with their eyes on Dawson, while Denzel Valentine was already leaking out in the open court.

2. Without dribbling, Dawson threw the ball ahead to Valentine for an outlet pass over the mid-court line. At the same time, three Michigan State players were spaced out while sprinting down the court with two Kentucky defenders behind them.

3. When Valentine caught the outlet pass, Aaron Harrison was the only Kentucky player back on defense.

4. Dawson -- who originally grabbed the rebound and threw the outlet pass -- beat four Kentucky players down the court, creating a 2-on-1 fast break for the Spartans. Valentine took just one dribble and threw an alley-oop to Dawson for an easy dunk. The entire play lasted less than four seconds.

Ohio State transition defense
Something will have to give in East Lansing tonight, because the Buckeyes transition defense has been just as dominant as the Spartans transition offense this season.

The Buckeyes limit their opponents to just 8.9 transition plays per game, the 14th-fewest of any team. Not only do they limit transition opportunities but they are efficient defending in transition as well. They hold their opponents to the 11th-fewest points per transition play. Teams are shooting just 43 percent against them on those plays.

Let's take a look at an example of an Ohio State defensive transition play that ended with a turnover:

1. After a defensive rebound by Notre Dame's Pat Connaughton, he passed the ball ahead to Demetrius Jackson near mid-court.

2. By the time Jackson caught the outlet pass, four Ohio State defenders were already ahead of the ball. As Jackson dribbled down the right side of the court, the four Ohio State defenders closest to Jackson all appeared to have their eyes on Jackson.

3. As Jackson attacked the basket, all five Ohio State defenders had at least one foot in the paint.

4. Aaron Craft forced Jackson to leave his feet under the basket, and Shannon Scott intercepted the pass.

The tempo of the game could play a large part in the outcome as Ohio State tries to limit Michigan State's easy points.

The Buckeyes transition defense is a large part why they rank second in the country in defensive efficiency and haven't allowed 70 points in any game this season.

Keys to victory: Michigan St. 24, Stanford 20

January, 1, 2014
Jan 1
What were the keys to victory for Michigan State in its come-from-behind win over Stanford in the 100th annual Rose Bowl?

Shutting down the run
Stanford had nine rushes for 91 yards in the first quarter, but managed only 71 yards on 27 rushes the rest of the way. Michigan State's defense, which allowed only 80.5 yards per game during the regular season, got back on track.

The Cardinal were able to run inside the tackles successfully in the first 15 minutes, but couldn’t do so at game’s end, epitomized by Michigan State’s fourth-down game-clinching stop.

Stanford had only 14 yards after contact on its 21 runs inside the tackle in the game’s final 15 minutes.

The Cardinal had 10 rushes that lost yardage in this game, their most since they had 10 on Nov. 8, 2008, in a loss at Oregon.

Winning Time
Stanford went 4 for 15 on third and fourth down in this game.

Michigan State held its last two opponents to 5 for 27 on third and fourth down, including 1 for 10 in the fourth quarter.

Connor Cook’s deft touch
Spartans quarterback Connor Cook was 22 for 36 for 332 yards and two touchdowns. He completed a career-high six passes on throws at least 15 yards downfield, including the go-ahead touchdown throw to Tony Lippett.

Cook fared far better than Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan, who was 2 for 7 on his throws of that distance.

This was Cook’s second straight game with at least 300 passing yards. He’d never had such a game prior to that.

Did You Know?
Michigan State’s 4-1 record in Rose Bowls is the best of any team that has played in at least five of them. It marked Michigan State’s first Rose Bowl win since 1988.

The Spartans have won three straight bowl games for the first time in school history. Their 10-game winning streak is their longest since a 10—gamer spanning the 1978 and 1979 seasons.

Michigan State got its conference some much needed respect. It marked the second win in the last 11 Rose Bowls for the Big Ten.