It's been a long season of ups and downs for Michigan State Basketball. It started off with a home loss to James Madison, as well as a 0-2 start in Big Ten play. To their credit, they got a blowout win over Baylor in the non-con and held serve ever since. But with a resume that doesn't have a lot of big wins, they still find themselves somewhat on the bubble.
The Spartans have a good shot at getting off of it, taking on Illinois at home. The Illini has won three straight and unlike in their previous win over Michigan State, will have star guard Terrence Shannon Jr. available. What can the home team do to get another signature win on its resume? Here are some keys below.
1. Use multiple bodies to guard Terrence Shannon Jr.
Shannon Jr. leads Illinois with 20.0 ppg on 35% shooting from deep, coming off an 18-point effort against Nebraska in overtime. At 6'6, he's a natural mismatch for most players, including some smaller guards. Michigan State has its usual three-guard lineup, with 6'4 Jaden Akins playing on the wing.
Look for Akins to get a good chunk of the matchup but expect senior Tyson Walker to guard Shannon as well. He's the best perimeter defender on the team and a former CAA Conference Defender of the Year during his days at Northeastern. That being said, Walker has also been the team's main source of offense, especially late in games. It may be a risk to have him deal with Shannon AND drop 20+ points in the game.
2. Big game from Malik Hall
In the last game, all four main scorers were in double figures in the first matchup between these teams. But with Shannon back, there's more for the guards to do this time around. That puts even more pressure on Hall (11.3 ppg and 5.0 rpg) to have a big outing to do his part. He had 14 points in the first matchup and before having just six points in the loss to Minnesota, did have seven straight double-digit scoring outings.
Hall is the x-factor for Michigan State, as a big game from him can put the Spartans in a position for a possible upset. He'll also have to outplay Illinois' Quincy Guerrier, who has struggled in the last couple of weeks. How Hall performs will go a long way towards deciding the game.
3. Good defensive minutes from the centers
In the first matchup, Coleman Hawkins was the best player for Illinois, producing 15 points, seven rebounds, and four blocks. He definitely outplayed the center duo of Mady Sissoko and Carson Cooper, who combined for just four points.
Expecting the Spartan bigs to have a big game is too much but what they can do is limit the impact of Hawkins in this game. A bad night from him will be needed to have a shot at the upset. Sissoko has played well against great bigs in the past, does he have one more big performance in him?