Coming off a loss to Iowa to start Big Ten play and a close win against Minnesota, Michigan State looks to rebound with a convincing home win. Although they are still without Player of the Year candidate Denzel Valentine (recovering from knee surgery), the Illinois Fighting Illini come to East Lansing, as the Spartans kick off their home conference schedule Thursday evening from Jack Breslin Student Events Center.
The Spartans fell down to No. 5 in the AP poll this week after their 83-70 loss to Iowa. Kansas, who MSU defeated earlier this season in the Champion’s Classic, jumped to No. 1. But if MSU has any aspirations of stopping Illinois (8-7, 0-2 in conference play), they’ll have to focus on stopping Kendrick Nunn, who is averaging 18.5 points per game. With All-American Valentine still on the sidelines, the Spartans are still “by committee” when it comes to a scoring leader in crunch time.
Led by Bryn Forbes in their overtime win over Oakland at The Palace and Matt Costello in their win over the Golden Gophers, the Spartans will need another player to step up this game. With Gavin Schilling back and playing at 100%, as well as Tum Tum Nairn Jr. getting more and more game experience, Tom Izzo has a plethora of options.
Illinois is shooting almost 50% from the field, so the Spartans will have to limit both the quality looks as well as the time of possession for the Fighting Illini. Izzo loves to play fast, but he might have to slow down the pace of play and go bigger with the lineup (possibly Costello, Schilling and Davis at the same time?) in the second half.
Revenge will also be on the mind of the Spartans. Last season, free throws were a pivotal factor late in the game, as the Illini were victorious over Michigan State, 59-54. However, it’s safe to say that the score will be much higher in this game and the Spartans will have more confidence heading into Thursday night’s showdown.