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Stat Watch: Why do the numbers like MSU better than Michigan this year?

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Despite the undefeated record, Michigan trails the 13-2 Spartans on Ken Pomeroy.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Numbers don’t always pump out the expected results.

At this moment, Michigan State (14-2) is three spots ahead of Michigan (15-0) on Ken Pomeroy’s analytics site. He calculates the Spartans and Wolverines as the nation’s third and fourth-best teams nationally.

How, Michigan partisans say? MSU has two losses (Kansas and Louisville) to Michigan’s none. Three straight wins by Mr. Beilein!

When diving into the numbers for 2018-19, though, Tom Izzo’s team edges out Beilein’s in several key categories. Here are the averages for the first two months of the season.

Michigan State

  • 1.197 points per possession (No. 2 efficiency offense in the country)
  • 57.9 percent effective field goal offense (No. 7)
  • .915 points allowed per possession (No. 15 efficiency defense)
  • 42.6 percent effective field goal defense (No. 7)

Michigan

  • 1.137 points per possession (No. 22 efficiency offense)
  • 53.8 percent effective field goal offense (No. 63)
  • .875 points allowed per possession (No. 4 efficiency defense)
  • 43.3 percent effective field goal defense (No. 9)

Basically, Michigan State scores better by shooting better, and even challenges shots a touch better than Luke Yaklich’s defense.

The truth is that Michigan devalued itself during an underwhelming December against lesser competition. According to Bart Torvik, Michigan has been the nation’s No. 18 team since the Purdue game. This includes a defense ranked all the way down at No. 51.

Meanwhile, he has MSU at No. 3. Over the same time frame, the Spartans topped No. 23 Florida and No. 24 Ohio State on the road, and routed Northwestern by 26.

Michigan scraped by the Wildcats by two on Dec. 4 (albeit on the road). Since the 19-point decision over Purdue, the Wolverines have topped its competition (including WMU, Air Force and Binghamton) by an average of just 12.5 points a game.

Meanwhile, the Spartans have bullied its recent foes by 20 a contest.

To translate: Michigan has played to its competition, while MSU has maintained a consistently high level of play all year.

With that said, Beilein has prepared his team better all year for primetime. If you go back to Torvik’s site, he has an option to filter out a team’s result against Quad One programs.

That means:

  • Home against the NET’s top 1-30
  • Neutral against 1-50
  • Away against 1-75

To filter this way leads to wonky results due to small sample size. New Mexico ranks atop the list, as its only Quad One game was a 85-58 destruction of top-15 Nevada.

It’s a fine comparison for Michigan and MSU though, since both teams have five such games under their belts. The records and stats:

Michigan State (4-2)

  • 1.19 points per possession (No. 18 efficiency offense)
  • 56.3 percent effective field goal offense (No. 10)
  • .949 points allowed per possession (No. 61 efficiency defense)
  • 44.9 percent effective field goal defense (No. 17)

Michigan (5-0)

  • 1.27 points per possession (No. 2 efficiency offense)
  • 56.7 percent effective field goal offense (No. 8)
  • .84 points allowed per possession (No. 12 efficiency defense)
  • 44.4 percent effective field goal defense (No. 14)

To summarize, when Michigan plays the Villanova’s and North Carolina’s of the world, both the offense and defense show up. When MSU faces better competition, the defense buckles.

With another month and a half before the in-state rivals meet, there’s ample time for this all to change. Right now, the team in Ann Arbor knows when to turn it up a notch.

That’s at least what the numbers say.