Michigan State takes on Illinois in this latest Big Ten Basketball battle. Which team has the advantage heading into the game?
No. 5 Michigan State (10-3, 2-0 Big Ten) vs. Illinois (9-4, 1-1)
TV Schedule: Thursday, January 2nd, 2019 8:00 PM EST on FS1
Location: Breslin Center, East Lansing
The Fighting Illini come into East Lansing, Michigan hoping to upset the Michigan State Spartans. Illinois has already beaten one ranked team from Michigan when the beat the Wolverines in December and look to beat the Spartans on their home court. Michigan State is looking to defend their home court and win their 6th straight as well as hoping to remain in 1st place and undefeated in Big Ten play.
Illinois has been lead by true freshman Kofi Cockburn, who leads the team in scoring entering this game. The Fighting Illini have good depth and a solid starting five this season in Ayo Dosunmu, Trent Frazier, Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Andres Feliz, Alan Griffin, Kipper Nichols. Head coach Brad Underwood who is in his third season as the head of the Illinois program has assembled a strong group of players ready to compete in a very competitive Big Ten conference.
Michigan State has been playing very well of late winning seven of their last eight games. Cassius Winston did not play in the Spartans’ last game due to a minor injury. He is expected to play against Illinois but it is not 100% confirmed that he will. Michigan State’s Xavier Tillman and Aaron Henry have been playing better offensively of late but the Illinois defense will present a difficult challenge for them and the Spartan offense.
Michigan State has to be able to withstand the Illinois pressure defense but that is a good thing and a bad thing for the Spartans offensively. It is bad because Michigan State does not have a ton of ballhandlers outside of Winston who are experienced and quick who can advance the ball up the court without turning the ball over. The good news is that the Spartans hope to do what Arizona did to Illinois and that is score in transition, which is a strength of Michigan State. The Spartans don’t want to play a slow-paced game and set up their half-court offense which is not their strength. Virginia Tech essentially shut down the Spartans transition offense and made Michigan State play in the half-court.
Illinois has not played well on the road this season but they do have one distinct advantage and that is down low with their frontcourt. Cockburn and Bezhanishvili give the Fighting Illini a strong one-two punch on the blocks and will give Tillman and Bingham Jr. all they can handle down low. Michigan State played well against the Seton Hall big men but struggled mightily against Duke’s Vernon Carey. This should be a very competitive game between two teams who emphasize defensive and toughness.