After both teams being knocked off of being in first place in the Big Ten, both Illinois and Michigan State look to edge closer to reclaiming that top position in the Big Ten Standings.
Who: Illinois Fighting Illini 16-7 (8-4 Big Ten) vs. Michigan State Spartans 16-8 (8-5 Big Ten)
When: Tuesday, February 11th at 9:00 pm ET
Where: State Farm Center in Champaign, Illinois
TV Schedule: ESPN
Rankings: Michigan State: #25 Coaches Poll, #11 Net Rankings, and #10 Kenpom
Illinois: #23 Coaches Poll, #34 Net Rankings, and #27 Kenpom
Illinois has been lead by true freshman Kofi Cockburn and star guard Ayo Dosunmu who leads the team in scoring and assist entering this game. Cockburn leads the team in rebounds and blocks and he anchors the frontcourt of the Fighting Illini with Giorgi Bezhanishvili. Dosunmu leads the backcourt as Illinois has depth at the guard position with Trent Frazier, Andres Feliz, and Alan Griffin.
Head coach Brad Underwood who is in his third season as the head of the Illinois program and has built a strong nucleus with a core of solid players ready to compete and looking to win a regular-season title in a very competitive Big Ten conference. However, after losing two straight games, the Fighting Illini need to win at home against the Spartans to keep pace with Maryland.
Michigan State has not been playing well of late losing three of their last three games. Cassius Winston will be looked upon as the Spartans need to win this game to stay in contention to win the Big Ten regular-season title. Michigan State’s Xavier Tillman and Aaron Henry will be looked upon to take their games to another level against the Fighting Illini but the Illinois defense will present a difficult challenge for them and the Spartan offense.
The Spartans have to be able to withstand the Illinois defense as they defeated the Fighting Illini by 20 points in a 76-56 win back in early January. Offensively, there have been good things and bad things for the Spartans offense recently. Michigan State has played better on the offensive end in the 2nd half the past three games but has struggled mightily in the 1st half especially on the road. Michigan State does not have a ton of ball handlers outside of Winston who are experienced and quick who can advance the ball up the court without turning the ball over. The Spartans do not play well when they commit double digits in turnovers.
The good news is that the Spartans really need this victory and Izzo and his staff can go way back to the early part of the season to do what Arizona did to Illinois and that is score in transition, which is a strength of Michigan State. The Spartans can also do what Maryland and Iowa had done which is dare Illinois to shot the three-ball. Illinois has not shot the ball well from beyond the arc shooting 8 for 22 against the Terrapins and the Hawkeyes.
One thing Illinois can do is slow the pace of the game and force the Spartans to set up their half-court offense which is not their strength of offense this season. Underwood and his staff can look at the film from early in the season and see that Virginia Tech essentially shut down the Spartans transition offense and made Michigan State play in the half-court. The Fighting Illini can also do what Wisconsin and Michigan did which is pack it in inside and allow any Spartan not named Winston to shoot beyond the arc. The Spartans against Michigan shot 6 for 23 from three-point range and Winston made half of those six made three-point attempts.
Illinois and Michigan State were #1 and #3 in the last Big Ten power rankings. However, both teams lost their last two games and Maryland is now solely in 1st place in the Big Ten. This is a game the both teams need to win to keep pace with the Terrapins if they want to win the Big Ten regular-season title and get the #1 see in the Big Ten tournament. This game should be very competitive and close.