I wanted the premise of this piece to be that people were thinking the Spartans could really use Korie Lucious about now. It turns out almost nobody is making that case. However, there’s still the notion that for tourney purposes, Michigan State must now be judged without Lucious, which in this case is unfair.

Tom Izzo kicked Korie Lucious off the team on January 25 and Michigan State’s results have looked like this since:

L Michigan 61-57 (Home)
W Indiana 84-83 (Home, OT)
L Iowa 72-52 (Road)

The temptation is to say Michigan State is a different team without Lucious playing alongside Kalin Lucas. No doubt the three poor performances against teams in the bottom half of the Big Ten, two of them at home, do not speak well for the post-Lucious era, but the absence of Lucious probably has little to do with this.

It’s difficult to determine how much Lucious is worth, but to get an idea I though it would be a good idea to look at the Vegas lines for the past three games.

Michigan -10
Indiana -10
Iowa -5

If you do the math, Michigan State has underperformed the Vegas prediction by an average of 16 points per game. Of course, it’s preposterous to suggest Lucious is worth 16 points per game. (Technically, you could conclude he’s worth even more since the lines are already trying to take into account his absence.) I’ll venture it’s pretty unlikely that he’s worth even three.

To get an idea of the worth of Lucious, let’s first examine an extreme case. I’m not sure which college player is the most valuable to his team, but among name teams Jimmer Fredette is a reasonable choice. Not only is Fredette an uber-efficient high-volume shooter, but unlike last season, BYU doesn’t have a viable back-up at the point. If BYU lost Fredette, where would they be ranked?

It’s a completely subjective question. Personally, I think they would be no worse than somewhere in the 40’s. The difference between the 10th best team and the 45th best team is about eight points. To be worth ten points, BYU would have to be about 70th. That seems low to me, but we’re just guessing here. At any rate, the most valuable player in America is worth at most ten points.

With each passing dud, it gets more difficult to believe that the absence of Lucious is not having some impact. But I’d like to get back to those Vegas spreads. Here’s what my system has forecast for those three games, keeping in mind that unlike Vegas, my system isn’t nearly as quick to react to roster changes.

Michigan -9
Indiana -8
Iowa -3

In every case the Vegas spread has been more optimistic about the Spartans than my Lucious-influenced predictions. This mirrors the tendency of the last three games that Lucious played – the Vegas prediction was about a point more optimistic than mine. I only invoke Vegas because it’s the most accurate predictive system available. (The average error of the Vegas spread is about nine points, better than any computer rating.) And it hasn’t flinched in the absence of Lucious, even after two ugly performances.

That leads me to believe that the poor play has nothing to do with Lucious, and unless Tom Izzo has lost his team, the Spartans will surely play better – and probably much better relative to their last three efforts – the rest of the way. Their problems going forward will have little to do with Keith Appling being forced into the starting lineup or Mike Kebler getting more minutes and more to do with a rather difficult closing stretch of games. When it comes to getting an at-large bid, folks shouldn’t apply any more weight to the Spartans’ February and March level of play than they do for any other team, because talent-wise, they’re not much different.