Illinois came out with a ton of energy and played a really competitive first half of basketball. After the Wisconsin game it was encouraging to see the young team come out with some fight.
However, the fact of the matter is that Michigan State is too talented for the Illini. They have five players who would start in our frontcourt. The athleticism gap was quite visible. NBA lottery picks Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson, Jr. impressed as Michigan State dunked its way to an 87-74 victory.
Before we get to the basketball stuff, I have a few fun grades to give out.
Orange Krush: A+
This was the first game back for the Orange Krush, and it was good to have them back. There was a buzz and energy that you could feel through the television screen. There was a moment in the first half where a Michigan State player was trying to put his contact lens back in, and the Illini faithful gave him a hearty boo for taking so long, and then gave him a round of applause once he finally accomplished the task.
It’s the little things that make us laugh the most. Welcome back Krush.
Lovie’s Beard: A+
It. Is. Glorious
New look for @LovieSmith at tonight's @IlliniMBB game. #ILLINI pic.twitter.com/zPLyZJTm7T— Illini Football (@IlliniFootball) January 23, 2018
The face of Illini Nation pic.twitter.com/uSBuQDW90m— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) January 23, 2018
The football staff added a few new coaches this week, but this is by far its biggest addition. This beard needs to be present during football season. And if it is, my season win total prediction for Illinois Football will have at least 2 more than I originally intended, based on the beard alone.
Bill Raftery: A
It’s weird to watch Big Ten games on FS1, but if it means we get to hear Raft give a “mantoman” to start off the game, I’m all for it. Bill Raftery is the best announcer in all of basketball, and maybe in all of sports, and I will watch any two teams in the world play basketball if he is on the call.
Kipper Nichols: A
Nichols poured in a career-high 27 points against the Spartans. He was the only Illini with the athleticism to hang with some of the elite talent on Michigan State. Nichols shot 9-15 from the field and 5-9 from three-point range off the bench.
Nichols is one of the Illini’s best shooters, athletes and rebounders, but he has struggled defensively and with making the right decisions on offense. Because of those issues, he has spent a lot of time on the bench.
He can’t be counted on for 20 points a night, but there’s no reason Kipper can’t be one of the best sixth-men in the conference. Nichols has shown flashes throughout the season, and the next step is consistency. Hopefully this can be a turning point for Nichols.
The Defense: C-
It is hard to give a grade for this one. The Illini caused 25 turnovers, the most this season for Michigan State, and the most in a game for a Michigan State team since 2005. However, they also gave up 87 points and allowed Michigan State to shoot 68.2 percent from the field. That field goal percentage is the highest any opponent has ever shot in the State Farm Center/Assembly Hall.
Those are two bizarre stats to come out of the same game. Illinois’ ball pressure was the reason for the turnovers, but also the reason for wide open alley oop dunks and layups. This defensive identity is a double-edged sword Underwood has to wrestle with. In conference play, it has been very kind to them
When a team shoots 75 percent for most of the game, there isn’t much of an opportunity for defensive rebounds. The Illini were out-rebounded 37-15 last night. At first, that seems like an alarming statistic. However, it is really a byproduct of the stellar shooting from MSU, their high turnover volume, and of course, their extreme athleticism advantage. Illinois getting out-rebounded in this game was inevitable.
That’s the real moral of the story. No one played a terribly bad game, and since the Illini were so overmatched, no individual player will be receiving a failing grade. The Report Card Gods (me) shall show mercy for one day.