The Illinois Fighting Illini will play the #13 Michigan State Spartans in East Lansing on Thursday night. The game will be on ESPN/WatchESPN.
The Illini lost to the Michigan Wolverines, 60-74, in their last game. Illinois has only won two conference games after losing just one non-conference game coming into Big Ten play.
However, Illinois will have more tough games ahead. The game against Michigan State will be their second straight game against a ranked Big Ten foe. Even after MSU, the Illini have three games where they will play two more ranked conference teams (Indiana and Minnesota) and two teams that have already defeated Illinois (Wisconsin and Minnesota).
The Spartans are ranked #13 in the nation with an overall record of 17-4. Unlike Illinois, Michigan State has only two conference losses this season. One of those losses came in their last game against the Indiana Hoosiers, 70-75. Before the loss to Indiana, the Spartans were riding a six game winning streak.
Michigan State has three players averaging double-digit points so far this season. These players are junior Keith Appling (13.5 points per game), freshman Gary Harris (12.7 points per game), and sophomore Branden Dawson (10.6 points per game).
In head coach John Groce’s teleconference this week, he had nothing, but good things to say about both Appling and Harris. Both players know how to score, but they can also play defense as well.
However, both players did not see success against the Indiana Hoosiers. Harris played well and finished with 21 points in the game while Appling only scored three points. Appling was in foul trouble the entire game. He played only 19 minutes and fouled out in the second half.
Another thing Michigan State seems to be doing well this season is rebounding. They have three players averaging over six rebounds per game and are ranked fourth in the Big Ten in rebounding margin.
The top rebounders on the team are junior Adreian Payne (6.9 rebounds per game), senior Derrick Nix (6.8 rebounds per game), and Dawson (6.7 rebounds per game). As a team, the Spartans are averaging 38.3 rebounds per game and are out-rebounding opponents by 7.3 rebounds per game.
This will be 111th meeting between the Fighting Illini and the Spartans. In last year’s meeting, Illinois defeated Michigan State, 42-41, at Assembly Hall. However, the Spartans have won the last five game played in East Lansing.
The keys Thursday’s game for Illinois will be defense and rebounding. In the game against Michigan, the Illini let the Wolverines shoot 52.5% from the field and let four of their starters reach double digits. They will also need to be very physical on defense and on the boards.
Keith Appling will be the enemy #1 for Illinois. If Illinois can do what Indiana did on January 27th, then they can win. The Hoosiers held Appling to only three points offensively and forced him into foul trouble. Appling only played nineteen minutes and fouled out with 5:14 minutes left in the game.
Offensively, Illinois will need to shoot the ball a lot better on Thursday. When they shoot under 40% from the field in conference games, the Illini lose. When they shoot over 40% from the field in conference games, they win. It is as simple as that.
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