Monday, March 5, 2012

Comparing The Big Ten Champions

There's been a lot of debate over the last few days regarding the 3-way tie among Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan for the Big Ten Championship.  Should there really have been a tie to determine the championship?  And were any of the teams less or more deserving than the others?  I decided to break down what each team has accomplished this season (most notably Big Ten play) to get a better idea of each team's accomplishments and whether anybody had "backed" into a title.

Aside from looking at just general Big Ten records, I thought that analyzing opponent strength and location during both conference and non-conference play would be interesting.  When Michigan was able to grab a share of the title after Michigan State's collapse against Ohio State, I knew there would be some animosity, but the ignorance from all three fanbases has been quite surprising.  For instance, although I'm going to look at non-conference scheduling and performance, these have nothing to do with determining the conference champion and have no relevance for the Big Ten Championship.  A good example of this type of concept can be seen in Michigan State and Wisconsin's match-up for the Big Ten football championship last fall.  Michigan State defeated Wisconsin earlier in the season, but because of the system the only thing that mattered was the second match-up.  Just like how non-conference performance means nothing for the Big Ten Championship.

Michigan State has been known to schedule very tough competition during the early portions of the season.  That can be clearly seen in their first two games against North Carolina and Duke.  Michigan and Ohio State have also played teams like Duke, but the important thing to remember is that these types of games have no relevance to the Big Ten Championship.  I'm only including them just to get a deeper understanding of the three teams to see if there were large discrepancies between each team's overall play this season.

Here are the most important stats for breaking down the three teams:

Overall Record
Big Ten Record
vs. Michigan
vs. MSU
vs. OSU
vs. Currently Ranked Opponents (AP Poll)
vs. Teams Receiving Votes (AP Poll)
vs. Top 50 RPI
Location Of Games Against Top 50 RPI (Home, Away, Neutral)
Number Of Big Ten Teams Beaten
Final 5 games
*Info can be found here, here, and here

The first important notes should center around the Big Ten record, head-to-head match-ups, and the performance against other Big Ten teams.  Not only because these are the only factors used when determining the Big Ten Championship, but also because they are the most similar components of the schedule for the three teams.  Not only did each team have 18 Big Ten games, but a lot of them were against the same opponents in the same locations.  If you look at these three categories, Michigan, MSU, and OSU are either identically tied or have no significant difference.

So, if there are essentially no differences in Big Ten play, perhaps the other factors will yield results for which of these three teams deserved the Big Ten Championship the most.  However, another glance shows that these are pretty inconclusive as well.  Each team's overall record, record against Top 50 RPI opponents, and location of games against Top 50 RPI teams are pretty similar.  OSU had two more wins than Michigan and one more than MSU, but they also played less Top 50 RPI teams and had more favorable scheduling against Top 50 RPI teams.

The bottom-line, as you have probably already figured out, is that all three of these teams have been nearly identical at this point in the season.  If you look at margins of victory, you may conclude that one team is better than the other, but these types of stats have always been massively flawed.  Just because MSU beat Purdue by more than Michigan or that Michigan beat Illinois by more than OSU means little to nothing because you can just easily point to other games that had a contradictory result.

Are there differences between the teams?  Of course.  Certainly one could argue that Michigan has been the best of the three over the last month of so (6-1 record since Feb 5), but they also started Big Ten play a lot slower than teams like MSU.  In fact, MSU may have lost their last two games, but they had already put themselves in great position before these two losses, so you can hardly criticize them for this.  Losing a game @ Indiana and against OSU is not exactly a collapse, especially since MSU had won 7 games in a row before those two games.

Basically, just throw the arguments that one of these three teams deserved a Big Ten Championship more than any other team out the window.  All three earned it by playing hard against not only the top Big Ten teams, but also against the solid and weak competition.  Each team had its own strengths and weaknesses over the course of Big Ten play.  MSU, OSU, and Michigan had some great wins, but they also had some pretty "head scratchin'" moments during the year.

I'm still happy Michigan got a share of the title, whether there were two other deserving teams or not, and look forward to an exciting Big Ten Tournament, which could be even more crazy than the finish to the Big Ten regular season.  March Madness is officially on!

Photo Credit: Bleacher Report

No comments:

Post a Comment