Michigan or Michigan State: Which team deserves better NCAA Tournament seed?
Both teams boast strong resumes as Selection Sunday approaches
DETROIT – Whenever Michigan and Michigan State are both good at something, there's a debate about which team is better. While the Wolverines certainly answered that question on the basketball court this season, it's unclear which will be rewarded with a better seed from the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
On the surface, it doesn't seem like Michigan State has much of an argument. Michigan won both head-to-head matchups this season by double digits, and neither were in Ann Arbor.
The Spartans were dominant at home this season, going 16-1 with wins over No. 5 Notre Dame and No. 3 Purdue. But when Michigan showed up at the Breslin Center, John Beilein's team put on a clinic and controlled the game, for the most part, wire to wire.
Nearly two months later, it was the same story in the Big Ten Tournament. Michigan trailed by three points at the break, but the second half was all Wolverines, as they bullied Michigan State for an 11-point win.
Here's the problem: Head-to-head results aren't technically among the NCAA Tournament selection committee's seeding criteria. While those games against Michigan State count as quality wins, they don't mean Michigan will automatically be seeded ahead of its in-state rival.
The biggest knock against Michigan State's resume is a shortage of good wins, especially away from home.
Michigan State only has two quadrant one wins in six chances, which shows how much the Big Ten struggled as a conference this year. The Spartans beat North Carolina on a neutral floor in November and survived against Purdue at home.
Notre Dame's struggles hurt Michigan State, as the Fighting Irish were ranked No. 5 in the nation when they lost in East Lansing. Injuries derailed Notre Dame's season, which took away a third quality win for MSU.
Michigan, on the other hand, picked up several good wins, especially on the road. The Wolverines have road wins over Michigan State and Texas; and neutral court wins over Purdue, Michigan State and Nebraska.
The Wolverines currently have five quadrant one wins, so this category clearly favors the Maize and Blue.
If Michigan State earns a better seed than Michigan, this category will be the reason.
The Spartans played a much easier schedule, but they also avoided a bad loss. MSU finished the season 29-4, and all four losses -- Duke, Ohio State and Michigan twice -- came to teams in the RPI top 25.
Michigan's resume isn't as tidy. The most glaring loss came at Northwestern, when Michigan fell apart in the second half and lost by nine points. It wasn't a terrible loss at the time, but Northwestern didn't win another game, finishing the year on a seven-game losing streak. In the end, it's a quadrant three loss for the Wolverines.
Michigan also has a quadrant two loss thanks to a slip up against LSU at the Maui Invitational. Though LSU has six quadrant one wins, it lost 14 games and sits at 90th in RPI.
Even Michigan's respectable loss at Nebraska is worse than all four of Michigan State's losses.
There are several measures the committee uses to help make seeding decisions, and Michigan and Michigan State both have arguments according to those calculations.
With a nine-game winning streak to end the season, Michigan vaulted into a tie for 12th in RPI, while Michigan State is close behind at 15th.
Both teams have terrible nonconference strength of schedules, but Michigan had a much tougher road in the Big Ten, and finished with the 53rd-toughest overall schedule, while MSU finished 99th.
The predictive statistics love Michigan State, as the Spartans rank sixth in the Basketball Power Index, sixth in the KenPom rankings and fourth in the Sagarin rankings.
Michigan, meanwhile is ranked 13th in BPI, ninth in KenPom and 11th in Sagarin. While those are elite numbers, Michigan State has a clear edge in that regard.
In the strength of record rankings, which measures how difficult it was for a team to achieve its current record, Michigan ranks fifth in the country and Michigan State ranks fourth.
Officially, the selection committee considers the entire body of work when seeding teams, but if a team shows clear improvement, recent results can carry more weight.
Michigan enters the NCAA Tournament playing its best basketball, winning nine straight games and taking home a second straight Big Ten Tournament championship.
In the last month, Michigan has beaten three NCAA Tournament teams and blown out three others with at least 19 wins. The Wolverines took down Michigan State and Purdue in consecutive days when both teams were vying for a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance. That's nearly equivalent to winning a Sweet 16 and Elite 8 game.
Michigan State has also played well over the last few months, winning 13 straight games between the two losses to Michigan. But there's no denying the Spartans had an easier road. Over than 13-game stretch, MSU was favored in every game and played eight times against losing teams.
Tom Izzo has one of the most talented teams in the country, and no duo is more lethal than Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges. The problem is that MSU hasn't taken advantage of opportunities to win outside of East Lansing, besides a neutral-court win against North Carolina.
Who deserves a better seed?
This is a very close battle, and the seeding of Michigan and Michigan State will reveal what the NCAA Tournament selection committee truly values most out of its criteria.
Michigan has a distinct edge in good wins and wins away from home, while Michigan State has no bad losses and better predictive stats. Michigan State won the Big Ten regular season title, and Michigan won the Big Ten Tournament.
It's an exciting debate, and if head-to-head results come into play, Michigan will likely come out on top. If the committee sticks strictly to the numbers, the edge will go to Michigan State.
Maybe both teams will get No. 3 seeds, and none of this will matter.
But no matter where they land in the bracket, both Michigan and MSU have enough to make a deep run in March.
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