Monday, January 27, 2014

What's up with Michigan State at home?

Michigan State is 18-2 overall, and 7-1 in conference, and they've put that record together despite significant injuries to pretty much every one of their important players. Pretty impressive.

But when you look at their performance so far, one thing jumps out: this team has not played well at home. Both their losses are at home: a disturbing blowout loss to North Carolina, and this weekend's loss to Michigan. By themselves, those losses probably wouldn't be cause for concern, given that MSU has won every other game. But they haven't exactly set the world on fire in their home wins, at least in conference play:

OSU, 72-68 (OT)
Minn, 87-75 (OT)
Ind., 71-66

Last week I debuted "Friday Facts" to show the "adjusted" efficiency margins in Big Ten play. At that point, Michigan State was number one in that metric. But even then, this was largely based on their impressive road performances (blowouts of lower-division teams Penn State, Indiana, Northwestern, and Illinois). One cool aspect of the adjusted EM is that I can break it down to home and road performances. Here are the splits, ordered by the home margin ("HEM"):

So Michigan State has just been treading water—an average Big Ten team—at home, on par with Nebraska. In fact, Nebraska's performance at home has been eerily similar against an almost identical schedule:

L, 71-70 to Michigan
W, 68-62 over OSU
W, 82-78 over Minnesota

A close loss to Michigan (check), and close wins over OSU and Minnesota (check, check). As luck would have it, Nebraska plays Indiana at home on Thursday, so after that game Nebraska and Michigan State will have played the same four teams at home. (Might I be so bold as to predict a 5-point win for the Huskers?)

So what's going on? There are at least two possibilities. First, it could be that this is just randomness, and Michigan State has just happened to have its poorer performances at home. Second, it could be Michigan State isn't quite as good as we might think they are. On the other hand, this could bode well for Michigan State's chances in the post-season, when there are no home games.

Michigan State has built up its impressive road margin against the bottom half of the league. Its remaining road games are against Iowa (tomorrow), Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan, and Ohio State. It will be interesting to see how well their numbers hold up against that slate.

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