For the Wildcats, the equation is slightly different. Ashley isnít coming back, so the real issue is determining whether their strong Giant profile was built by a squad that no longer exists.
As it turns out, Arizona still doesnít have much to worry about. The Wildcatsí overall Giant rating of 94.1 drops only slightly to 93.0 during the eight games theyíve played without Ashley. (Stats from the eighth game, a win at Oregon State, arenít included in that rating.) Arizona has been playing faster without its sophomore forward but otherwise features the same stifling defense, efficient offense and devastating rebounding at both ends. Simply put, there is no reason to believe that Arizona is any more vulnerable to a GK-level upset without Ashley.
Michigan State Spartans
When Dawson broke his hand in late January, the Spartans were 18-1 and ranked No. 3 in the country. Since that time, theyíre 5-6, with Dawson returning only for the final two games of that stretch. Needless to say, Michigan Stateís performance is quite different when it is missing a key player, and the Spartans have been without three top contributors at various points, with Payne and Appling also nursing injuries. So, naturally, the Spartans have been better without their best guys.
Wait, what? As strange as it sounds, our model actually awards Michigan State a better power ranking in the 14 games when the Spartans played without one of their three injured stars than in the 15 games when they were all on the court together. Thatís a product of the fact that Michigan State has played a significantly tougher schedule in the games when those players were out. The modelís ďsecret sauceĒ -- how similar a team is to previously safe or slain Giants -- hardly changes, either. As a result, MSUís overall Giant rating (71.7) isnít much different than what it put together with a full squad (71.3).
The one thing thatís drastically different between a healthy and injured MSU squad is its GK rating. Itís extremely unlikely that the Spartans will qualify to play a game in the tourney as a Giant Killer, but the injury-depleted group posted a massive 61.7 GK rating, compared to a 30.2 mark for the healthy bunch. Why? Because without Appling, Dawson and/or Payne, MSU played more like a Giant Killer, employing a slower pace and launching more 3-pointers.
Look, thereís no doubt that the modelís conclusions are, at the very least, really weird here. And itís silly to believe that Michigan State isnít a better team with all its guys. But weíre also confident that we donít need to adjust MSUís overall Giant rating come tourney time
Unlike the previous two teams, weíre evaluating the Cowboys as a GK, not a Giant, because Joe Lunardi projects them to be a 9-seed in his latest Bracketology. And although Smart missed only three games after being suspended following his altercation with a fan at Texas Tech, those contests are enough to depress Oklahoma Stateís overall GK rating.
The Cowboys project as a solid Killer with a 24.4 rating. But when you weed out the three games Smart missed, that number climbs to 29.4. Thatís not particularly surprising -- Oklahoma State is obviously a better team with Smart in the lineup. But the degree of change is somewhat unexpected, as is the revelation of just how bad OSU was without its best player. The Cowboys team that dropped those three games falls from a power rating of 26.1 to 5.7, and the GK rating is an anemic 2.5. Thatís the same as teams like Western Carolina and Colgate. And itís strong evidence that in Oklahoma Stateís case, absence makes a Killer grow weaker.