The Illini will be back at home on Friday, with a pivotal battle against the always tough Michigan State Spartans and head coach Tom Izzo.
Michigan State comes into the contest with a 12-4 overall record and 4-1 record in the Big Ten. As usual the Spartans played one of the most competitive non-conference schedules in the country with wins against Kentucky, Villanova, and Oregon, and losses to Gonzaga, Alabama, and Notre Dame.
Michigan State is led by seniors Tyson Walker, who is 6-foot-1 and is Sparty’s leading scorer at 13.9 points per per game, and leading rebounder Joey Hauser (13.8 points, 7.6 rebounds per game). Also a big contributor is 6-foot-4 junior A.J. Haggard, who is third on the team in scoring at 11.9 points per game, and their leader in assists at 6.4 per game.
Michigan State in the past, and especially under Tom Izzo, has been known for its rebounding and toughness. This year, though, the Spartans are only seventh in the Big Ten at 38.1 rebounds per game, and are giving up the sixth most rebounds per game at 33.5, so their dominance on the glass isn’t what it usually is.
Also, Michigan State is your grind it out, limit the possession type of team this year, as they are 10th in the Big Ten in scoring at 71.2 points per game, and giving up 65.8 points per game (ninth in the Big Ten). As far as shooting the ball and defending it, they shoot the 3-pointer well at 37.5% which is fourth in the Big Ten, but overall they are shooting it at 44.7% which is ninth in the conference, and their opponents are shooting it 40.1% overall, which is seventh best in the conference and 30.1% from three-point land, which is fifth best.
So for the Illini to win they are going to have to score the ball, and not rely on the three-point shot to get it done, I would like to see some post touches for Dain Dainja and try to get Joey Hauser in foul trouble if he is guarding him, and getting out on the fast break. On defense the Illini must stop Michigan State from shooting the three, and make them score inside as Michigan State does not have a dominant low post player.
This is a huge game, the crowd should be rocking for a Friday night prime time game. Hopefully, the Illini can match the crowd’s excitement and energy, and get the W.