Illinois basketball must hurdle past Michigan State in sprint to the finish

The Illinois basketball team looks to be making another NCAA tournament, but Michigan State won't be an easy task. The Spartans are currently sprinting to the finish line.
Nebraska v Illinois
Nebraska v Illinois / Justin Casterline/GettyImages

One of the most fun things about college sports it's a sprint and not a marathon.

In the NBA, a mid-week loss isn't considered such a bad thing during an 82-game season. So, for the Illinois basketball team, it's a 31-game sprint. Every game is important.

You’re not allowed to slip up. Games against smaller, inferior, opponents in December on a night can lead to a bad loss. This will make every game after that become overwhelmingly important. You can't afford to slip up or are afforded to look ahead. Just about everything has to be perfect to be perfect.

Illini head coach Brad Underwood said, "We haven't been good with multiple days off. The NCAA rules say that you must take two days off."

That's what happened to Michigan State on Wednesday night. The Spartans were looking ahead to Illinois, and Minnesota made them pay for it by winning 59-56. Despite the loss to Minnesota, Michigan State had previously won five of their last six games and are 2.5-point favorites against Illinois.

"We loss to a damn good team over there," said Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo.

As mentioned, Michigan State got caught looking ahead, and Minnesota's win ruined things for Illinois.

“I know people are going to give up on us and I don’t blame them,” said Izzo, “but I know what this team can do. We’re going to win some games."

The Illini beat Michigan State in Champaign 71-68 in early January so, of course, the Spartans would be looking forward to the rematch against Illinois. They can right the wrongs from the January loss. Now the Illini have to play a ticked-off and hyper-focused Michigan State team that may feel like they are fighting for their NCAA lives.

Illinois must be the aggressor and take the fight to Michigan State. Otherwise, our Illini will be pushed aside on Michigan State's run to the NCAA tournament.

"I've said it all the time, Michigan State they're going to fight, they're going to grind. They got three quick guards that are excellent on the perimeter. (A.J.) Hoggard killed with his straight line drives," said Underwood.

How Illinois basketball compares to Michigan State


In this game, Underwood is still trying to figure out how to reincorporate Terrance Shannon Jr. after his suspension and as he awaits his preliminary hearing on a charge of rape. Underwood also has to figure out how to get the most out of a thin bench in this game and moving forward because that can make a big difference for a deep NCAA tournament run. He also needs to figure out how to keep Ty Rodgers aggressive.

It seems Tommy Tournament (Tom Izzo) has his squad rolling. Michigan State has figured out that they have an NCAA tournament-caliber team.

It's funny what wearing football pads mid-season will do. Ever since the loss to Illinois, they are 5-2 and favored to win against the Illini. Michigan State will also be favored to win against Michigan, Iowa, Penn State, Indiana, Ohio State, and Northwestern at home.

The Spartans won't even come close to winning against Purdue, so let's not include them. Tyson Walker, Hoggard, and Jaden Akins are all playing good basketball at the same time.


Can Illinois get Shannon involved in the offense without breaking up the rhythm? It's been hard for the Illini since Shannon returned. The offense is stagnant now, and the ball sticks. There is no flow. If that happens, then Michigan State wins.

But Illinois is deeper with Coleman Hawkins, Rodgers, Quincy Guerrier, and Marcus Domask in leading and supporting roles. So again, this game is more about how soon Shannon gets reacclimated.

Walker, Hoggard, and Akins are all working together on a tough squad to beat at home. Also, Michigan State can rebound. They outrebounded the Illini by three the first time these two teams played. The Spartans won't be pushed around.


The Illini wins this matchup better offensively, as there isn't a drop-off when we go to the bench. Even though Michigan State has more players playing, they're aren't as productive as Illinois' bench players.

Overall, while I think Illinois will win, it won't be easy. Illinois 79, Michigan St 70

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