Big Ten Geeks: Spartan Shooting

In the first epic clash of the conference season, Michigan State held serve at home against a relentless Ohio State team. Does this give the Spartans the inside track on the Big Ten title? Let’s dive in.

In a lot of ways, this was a tough game to figure. MSU fans can point to the fact that their team led nearly the entire game, and that Michigan State’s ability to build a 17-point lead over the first 31:58 of game time is indicative of who is the better team.

FIRST 31:58 OF REGULATION Points Possessions Efficiency
Ohio State 38 51 0.75
Michigan State 55 51 1.08

Ohio State fans can point to what happened next – a rash of Michigan State turnovers and a 20-3 Buckeyes run to force overtime – as a sign of their team’s superiority.

FINAL 8:02 OF REGULATION Points Possessions Efficiency
Ohio State 20 15 1.33
Michigan State 3 14 0.21

Then, of course, there’s the little matter of who actually won the game. That was Michigan State by virtue of continued hot shooting in the extra period.

OVERTIME Points Possessions Efficiency
Ohio State 10 9 1.11
Michigan State 14 10 1.40

Truth be told, I’m inclined to believe that this game shows Ohio State as the better team, if I were forced to rely on this one-game sample (I’m not). The Buckeyes outplayed the Spartans in nearly every area. Let me explain.

Ohio State earned more free throws and got off more field goal attempts (with the Buckeyes’ rebounding supremacy overcoming Michigan State’s turnover advantage).

Thad Matta’s team also had the more optimal shot selection.

% shots at rim % shots 2pt jumpers % shots 3pt
Ohio State 55.2 13.8 31.0
Michigan State 47.4 19.3 33.3

The Spartans had only one advantage, and it was a big one.

FG% at rim FG% 2pt jumpers FG% 3pt
Ohio State 53.1 37.5 22.2
Michigan State 37.0 45.5 57.9

Michigan State made jump shots at an unusually high rate, and that is what won this basketball game. While these Spartans are indeed good shooters, those types of numbers just aren’t repeatable. The results of this game don’t conflict with what I believed before it was played – Ohio State is just a little bit better than Michigan State.

Of course, the good news for MSU fans is that what I think doesn’t really matter. The Big Ten title will be decided by the results on the court, and this is indeed a huge victory for the Spartans. This is looking like a hotly contested three-team race – here’s the latest KenPom¬†projected conference win totals, out to two decimals for clarity.

Team Projected B1G Wins
Wisconsin 13.85
Ohio State 13.65
Michigan State 13.57
Michigan 11.38
Iowa 11.22
Illinois 8.52
Minnesota 8.41
Indiana 6.94
Nebraska 5.93
Purdue 5.76
Penn State 5.14
Northwestern 3.63

Ohio State is the highest-rated team in the nation, but Wisconsin projects as an ever-so-slight favorite due to the Badgers’ favorable schedule and the Buckeyes’ narrow loss in East Lansing (where Wisconsin does not have to play). If Ohio State had pulled off the comeback victory last night, the Buckeyes would be in the driver’s seat, but the title race instead remains¬†a dead heat at this very early stage.


Tonight brings a very interesting doubleheader on BTN.

First, at 6pm CT, Minnesota visits Penn State in a toss-up game that could really damage the Gophers’ tournament hopes. A loss could send Minnesota into a bit of a tailspin, as the rest of January looks very difficult, and the table above shows that the Gophers don’t exactly have a large margin for error.

At 8pm CT, Wisconsin hosts Illinois. The Badgers’ stingy perimeter defense should be able to slow an Illini offense that has been fairly good lately, so Illinois will have to hope Wisconsin is cold from deep if it hopes to keep this one close. This is a “house money” game for the Illini, whose tournament outlook wouldn’t really be impacted by a loss.


Your Opinion?
Show Comments (8 Comments)
R. Lang on 1/8/2014 @ 11:25am EDT Said:

You say Ohio State EARNED more free throws? The disparity of 17 FTs to 6 FTs shows you why there’s a problem in the way games are refereed. Certain teams get favored calls. No wonder Iowa’s coach lost his temper in its game against Wisconsin. Izzo had to be restrained at the half-time buzzer after several no calls against OSU.

Matt Barker on 1/8/2014 @ 1:23pm EDT Said:

Wow, R. Lang, you really think that the disparity in the amount of free throws taken in the game was due to officiating? Get a clue. The reason why Ohio State went the the foul line more often was because the Buckeyes attacked the basket. You’re not going get to the charity stripe too often by taking long jump shots.

Jamie Prey on 1/8/2014 @ 1:33pm EDT Said:

Is there anything more tired than whining about the officiating?? Home teams are gonna get calls…it’s a fact…and the sooner people understand that, the sooner we can stop hearing this complaint after EVERY game.

Doug on 1/8/2014 @ 2:36pm EDT Said:

I love how everyone talks about the great comeback by OSU, didn’t MSU win the game ? Appling and Payne both ailing, Trice not playing, and MSU still won, what a heroic effort by MSU !

21stcenturylaw on 1/8/2014 @ 9:48pm EDT Said:

Enough with the sabermetrics. Trice was out. Payne couldn’t start. Appling was not at full speed. MSU built a 17 point lead and won the game. Edge to MSU!

Hans67 on 1/9/2014 @ 4:29pm EDT Said:

In the future I hope we get a more thoughtful analysis from this blogger. To analyze the relative strengths of these two teams without mentioning the health issues Michigan State faced in this game is not particularly perceptive, no matter how many statistics are thrown into the analysis.

    Mike Portscheller, Big Ten Geeks on 1/10/2014 @ 10:28am EDT Said:

    We are not discussing the strength of these teams in some kind of perfect world sense. Michigan State’s health issues are part of who that team is right now. If we’re going to give Michigan State extra credit for having guys at less than 100%, do we then try to consider how good Ohio State would be if Deshaun Thomas stuck around? We analyze the product on the court. Period.

21stcenturylaw on 1/11/2014 @ 12:33am EDT Said:

mike- you said “this game shows Ohio State as the better team.” three of msu’s top players were out or hobbled and they still won. i guess your statistics prove that OSU is better if MSU is playing hurt.