College Basketball's Biggest Underperformers: Is There Any Hope for Michigan State?

Breaking down whether these two teams can bounce back to become valuable bets in the futures market.

Michigan State v Maryland
Michigan State v Maryland / G Fiume/GettyImages

Last week, we took a look at three teams that have outperformed preseason expectations so far this College Basketball season.

While it is certainly more fun to see who has thrown themselves into championship contention by overperforming, it is equally important to see which teams have disappointed the most by underperforming.

The list of "overperformers" was a difficult one to create as there have been so many teams who have exceeded expectations through the first half of the season. The underperformers list is much more straightforward, with two teams firmly in the driver's seat of a car they are dying to sell.

We will take a look at the two teams who had legitimate reasons to be considered for winning it all but have missed the mark the most so far this season.

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College Basketball Underperformers Odds to Win it All

Arkansas Razorbacks (10-10, 1-6 SEC) +1800 Preseason to +20000 Now

Since taking over the Razorbacks in 2019, coach Eric Musselman has revitalized the Arkansas basketball program and become one of the hottest names in all of college basketball.

Going into the season, Arkansas had made 3 consecutive Sweet 16s under Musselman, two of which saw it advance to the Elite Eight. Although they had a lot of new faces heading into the season (253rd in minute continuity from last season, according to KenPom), expectations were still high for the preseason #14 Razorbacks.

20 games into the season, it is safe to say that they are nowhere close to being reached.

Some would even describe the first half of the season as a complete and total catastrophe for the Razorbacks. After a 1-5 start to conference play, it seemed as if things couldn't get worse for Musselman's side. They have.

It was announced on Saturday, minutes before Arkansas hosted Kentucky, that veteran guard Davonte "Devo" Davis would be stepping away from the program indefinitely. Arkansas went on to lose to the Wildcats and will be without its second-leading minutes-getter moving forward.

While the season is not over yet for the Razorbacks, things are looking bleak with only 11 regular season games left on the schedule. Musselman would never say it himself, but I expect he is already looking to next season if he does indeed remain at Arkansas.

As far as championship odds are concerned, Arkansas has been arguably the most disappointing team so far this season, at least in Vegas's eyes.

So, what has gone wrong for Arkansas?

The short answer is everything. When you see a team drop from +1800 championship odds preseason all the way to +20000 midseason, it is hard to pinpoint one issue that has been the main culprit behind the struggles.

That is certainly the case for the Razorbacks, who rank 174th nationally in points per game, 189th in rebounds per game, and tied for 383rd in assists per game. The defensive side of the ball does not provide any reprieve for the Razorbacks, who rank 305th in the country in points allowed per game.

How do you analyze the biggest issue for a team that doesn't score, rebound, pass or defend? Deeper metrics, of course. And luckily for us, KenPom's metrics paint a clear picture of the deeper lying issues that have plagued Arkansas this season.

Looking at those metrics, it is evident that the defensive side of the ball is the biggest cause for concern for Musselman. Arkansas is simply not creating enough turnovers for opposing teams.

It ranks 329th in the nation for Defensive Turnover Percentage (amount of possessions that end in turnovers on defense), 327th in Steal Percentage, and 265th in Non-Steal Turnover Percentage.

Arkansas is neither taking the ball away from opponents nor playing strong enough defense for opposing teams to commit unforced errors. In four previous seasons under Musselman, the Razorbacks' worst finish in Defensive Turnover Percentage was 91st in the nation. Suffice it to say that it would take a miracle to get anywhere close to that ranking this season.

I am not ready to raise questions about the culture of the program under Musselman. He has simply had too much success in his short time at the helm to discredit his accomplishments because of one bad season.

However, I do have questions about the culture of this specific team, and even a number as shiny as +20000 is nowhere near enough to cause me to consider them for a future. I will be staying far away from Arkansas but will keep an eye on whether or not Musselman starts to look elsewhere for the next step in his career.

Michigan State Spartans (12-8, 4-5 Big Ten) +1500 Preseason to +6000 Now

After discussing Arkansas, it probably seemed like an impossible task to find a team that has underperformed expectations more than the Razorbacks. And while Michigan State currently has much better odds to win it all this year, the Spartans have certainly rivaled the disaster that has occurred in Fayetteville.

Tom Izzo's side was ranked No. 4 in the preseason AP Top 25, and it did not cope with the pressure well, especially early on.

Michigan State's season started at home as 16.5-point favorites over upstart James Madison. The Dukes took MSU to overtime, and comfortably had the biggest upset of the first weekend, knocking off the Spartans by a score of 79-76. Things would only get worse from there for the Spartans, as they dropped eight of their next thirteen.

To be fair, the Spartans had a significant bounce back after starting 5-9 with a 24-point victory over then No. 6 Baylor. But it seems that game was more of an exception than a turning point in the season, as Michigan State has only beaten one other team in the KenPom Top 50 and has struggled to start conference play. But does that paint the full picture for Sparty?

It is worth noting that the Spartans' "Strength of Schedule" ranks as the tenth most difficult in the nation so far this season. While they have a lack of quality wins, it is important to acknowledge that, other than James Madison, six of their eight losses came to teams that are currently ranked in the KenPom Top 50. Their other loss came on the road to Nebraska, who is currently ranked 51st.

With the season heating up and the Spartans already having five conference losses on the record, it is entering now-or-never territory for coach Tom Izzo. Having said that, they still have 11 conference games on the schedule and will likely be favored in nine of the eleven (away against Illinois and away against Purdue should see the Spartans as underdogs).

Obviously, as one of the top-20 teams in terms of odds to win it all, Vegas has not yet given up on Michigan State. Neither has ESPN bracket guru Joe Lunardi, who currently has the Spartans as an eight seed in the NCAA Tournament. And when you consider Ken Pomeroy has the Spartans at #18, it seems as if all of the most distinguished voices in college basketball still have hope in Izzo's side.

Should you?

It is important to factor in bias towards "Blue Blood" programs when taking into account the Spartans' future odds. But there are other, arguably more important, aspects to take into consideration when assessing their odds for the remainder of the season.

We've already discussed the performances that we have seen, but what about those still on the schedule? Of the remaining games, only two come against teams that are currently ranked in the AP top 25.

With the schedule - on paper - getting easier, what do the Spartans need to do to turn their fortune? It all starts with the glass.

Entering Tuesday's matchup with archrival Michigan, Michigan State ranks 12th out of 14 in Big Ten play with 31 rebounds per game. Its rebounding net is currently -2.9, as it is allowing 33.9 boards to conference opponents. It also ranks 12th in offensive rebounding, averaging a disappointing 8.3 offensive boards per game.

While rebounding is a team stat, and Izzo does love to talk about guard rebounding, the Spartans need more from their big men. Mady Sissoko and Carson Cooper have been splitting minutes at Center evenly, and neither has performed well enough for the team to succeed, especially on the road. When you factor in that neither provides anything on the offensive side of the ball (4.6 and 3.6 PPG, respectively), it starts to make sense why Sparty has struggled down low.

Luckily for Izzo, sophomore big man Jaxon Kohler is easing his way back into the rotation after having foot surgery. Kohler is certainly the most talented post-threat the Spartans have, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Along with Kohler, freshman Xavier Booker is gradually working his way into Izzo's good graces, and will look to see more minutes moving forward.

Pair improved post-play with the performances Michigan State is already getting out of superstar guard Tyson Walker (19.3 PPG), and the path forward for Sparty begins to look a lot less gloomy.

Michigan State may have shot itself in the foot to start the season, but the formula for improvement is clear. This is a team that could be in line for a drastic odds change if they take advantage of the remainder of their schedule.

Future bets are as much about finding value as it is about being confident in a specific team. While I will not be confident in Michigan State until I see how they fare with more minutes from Kohler, I think this is the biggest value you will find on Sparty for the remainder of the season.

And when all of the most reliable voices in College Basketball are saying the same thing, it is typically profitable to listen.

As the saying goes: "January, February, Izzo, April."

I am placing a one-unit future on Michigan State to make the Final Four at +1500.

Game odds refresh periodically and are subject to change.