The Rise of the Spartans, the Fall of the ACC and Why the Big 12/SEC Challenge Is a Can’t-Miss Event
Let’s put the chatter about the tremendous NFL weekend aside and talk college basketball.
If you watched the NFL this weekend, you might have missed a few great NCAA hoops. Auburn (No. 5 in TRACR) established themselves as the AP No. 1 team with its win over Kentucky (No. 8). Marquette (13th) continues its hot streak and won its sixth consecutive game after dropping four straight, while Kansas (No. 9) was able to salvage a win over an underrated Kansas State squad (29th) in Manhattan – just days after the passing of Bill Self’s father.
TRACR (Team Rating Adjusted for Conference and Roster) has adjusted after these games, but the outcomes were no surprise. TRACR is a net efficiency metric that evaluates how well a team performs based on who they play. The model, which is trained on over 15 years of college basketball data, rewards big wins over good teams and punishes losses to bad ones or even wins that were closer than expected.
Here are some trends that TRACR picked up from over the weekend, as well as how the model expects this week’s games to play out:
Another Special Spartan Squad?
Our very own Jon Chepkevich had a chance to visit Madison on Friday for an in-person look at Wisconsin’s (21st) win over Michigan State (15th). Going into this game, we expected individual performances from Johnny Davis, Max Christie and others to be the highlight, but it turned out to be all Michigan State.
“(Michigan State) did a good job as a team of making it tough on Johnny [Davis]” Chepkevich said. “He still ended up with a decent box score stat line, but they did a great job as a team of packaging help and giving him nothing easy. (They) had multiple guys they could throw at him defensively and take turns guarding him.”
This perfectly sums up how we should expect Michigan State to play going forward. In their 86-74 win over the Badgers, the Spartans had balanced scoring between their starters and bench – 43-43. They have size and can switch on any player, which is partly why Johnny Davis went 8 of 20 from the field.
While Wisconsin was missing their top big in Tyler Wahl, Michigan State still outrebounded the Badgers 39-23. The Badgers were outrebounded in all three of their losses this season.
The Spartans have some potential future NBA players, but they are a threat in the Big Ten because of their depth. Though many expected Purdue or Illinois to be at the top, nobody should be surprised that Michigan State is currently first in the standings. In addition, this looks like one of those Tom Izzo teams that can make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
January, February, Izzo.
The ACC Won’t Let Me Be
It’s time to talk about the ACC. What is going on?
This has been one of the worst years in the conference’s history, certainly one of the worst since the current format was implemented. The average TRACR for an ACC team is 14.5, which ranks fifth among all conferences in Division I. Typically, the ACC is second or third each year.
As of now, TRACR expects to the ACC have two, maybe three teams in the NCAA Tournament.
Only one team in the ACC is ranked in the AP Top 25, and that is Duke at No. 12. Though the Blue Devils are 5-2 in conference play, they should be the heavy favorites to win the regular-season and tournament titles. Paolo Banchero deserves to be on the Wooden Watch, and they have some solid role players with experience. Duke seems like it has a team that will be able to honor Coach K’s final season with a deep tourney run.
But what about the rest of the conference? Miami (46th in TRACR) and Florida State (63rd) are tied at the top of the standings. Miami’s only two losses in conference play have come against the Seminoles and both were by just one point. The Hurricanes also beat Duke at Cameron (another close game). Florida State also beat Duke by one point in overtime.
Neither team has any dominant performances on the resume outside of wins against Duke, however. Miami got crushed by Alabama (22nd) while also losing by 16 to Dayton (42nd). Both were neutral-site games and the lobsided defeats hurt the Hurricanes.
Florida State has a similar resume. The Seminoles lost by 28 to Purdue (No. 6) and while they have won six straight, five of those wins were decided by single digits. Both these teams need more of a resume if they want to make the tournament.
One team that could change the tone for the conference is Wake Forest (32nd). The Demon Deacons have won three straight, including a 22-point win over North Carolina (58th) over the weekend. This could finally be the chance for head coach Steve Forbes to get his spotlight – Forbes had a brilliant team at East Tennessee State in 2019-20 that was surely a NCAA Tournament team before the cancellation of the event.
Virginia (85th) is not a tournament team right now, Notre Dame (65th) still might be a year away and North Carolina (58th) is losing its chances.
Bottom line: The ACC play needs to step up, or we may see only two or three teams in March.
The Challenge of the Year
One of the best opening features in every college basketball season is the Big Ten/ACC challenge. With the ACC struggling, however, this year’s challenge was not as exciting as it has been in past seasons.
Enter the Big 12/SEC challenge.
TRACR has the Big 12 as the best conference in college basketball (see chart above). Every team in the conference is in TRACR’s top 50 (see chart below). Every game involving a Big 12 team is going to be a big one.
In addition, the SEC is having one of its best years ever. Though TRACR has the Big Ten ahead of the SEC on average, one can make the argument that the SEC’s top teams are better than the Big Ten’s top teams. Seven teams in the SEC are in TRACR’s top 25.
That’s why this weekend of action between the Big 12 and the SEC will be one of the major highlights of the season. All 10 games will be played this Saturday (due to a size difference between conferences, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt will not participate for the SEC).
Here is how TRACR sees each one of those games:
No. 16 LSU (19th in AP) at No. 40 TCU
TRACR Favorite: LSU (55.5%)
Projected Score: LSU 66, TCU 63
No. 47 West Virginia at No. 24 Arkansas
TRACR Favorite: Arkansas (69.1%)
Projected Score: Arkansas 84, West Virginia 78
No. 20 Oklahoma at No. 5 Auburn (No. 1 in AP)
TRACR Favorite: Auburn (75.5%)
Projected Score: Auburn 86, Oklahoma 76
No. 111 Missouri at No. 31 Iowa State (23rd in AP)
TRACR Favorite: Iowa State (77.4%)
Projected Score: Iowa State 86, Missouri 73
No. 7 Baylor (No. 4 in AP) at No. 22 Alabama
TRACR Favorite: Baylor (57.2%)
Projected Score: Baylor 86, Alabama 84
No. 35 Oklahoma State at No. 19 Florida
TRACR Favorite: Florida (55.8%)
Projected Score: Florida 76, Oklahoma State 73
No. 29 Kansas State at No. 128 Ole Miss
TRACR Favorite: Kansas State (77.8%)
Projected Score: Kansas State 83, Ole Miss 73
No. 8 Kentucky (12th in AP) at No. 9 Kansas (No. 5)
TRACR Favorite: Kansas (51.7%)
Projected Score: Kansas 85, Kentucky 84
No. 39 Mississippi State at No. 11 Texas Tech (13th in AP)
TRACR Favorite: Texas Tech (78.1%)
Projected Score: Texas tech 85, Mississippi State 75
No. 10 Tennessee (18th in AP) at No. 23 Texas
TRACR Favorite: Tennessee (51.6%)
Projected Score: Tennessee 77, Texas 76
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Graphic design by Matt Sisneros.