On Saturday night at 8 p.m. EST on Big Ten Network, MSU basketball (16-1) travels to the State Farm Center in Champaign, Illinois to take on the Illinois Fighting Illini (13-5).
The Spartans are coming off a big 54-40 win at Northwestern after two straight overtime wins, the first of which was an overtime battle against then top-5 team Ohio State. Their most recent overtime win, however, was less impressive, as they almost fell to the Minnesota Golden Gophers at home before absolutely dominating them in overtime. The Spartans, while they have played a lot of games in the past two weeks, are coming back to form, as every player should be getting their normal playing time except Adreian Payne, who is “very questionable”, according to Tom Izzo.
On the other side, Illinois is 13-15 and 2-3 in the Big Ten. As far as out of conference play goes, they played beat the then number 23 Missouri, made it close against then number 15 Oregon but had a very disappointing 67-64 loss against Georgia Tech. When the Big Ten season rolled around, the Fighting Illini had two straight impressive wins against Indiana and Penn State. After that game, however they started a string of three ugly losses against Wisconsin, Northwestern and Purdue. That’s right, Northwestern and Purdue.
Keys to victory for the Spartans
Don’t allow easy buckets - The Illinois defense is sub par this season, it will be easy to get buckets even with Adreian Payne out. On the defensive side, however, they need to stop the easy buckets, especially from the guards. Appling, Harris, Trice and Valentine will need to step it up, as the Illini get most of their points from their three guards they use to start: Tracy Abrams, Joseph Bertrand and their star, Rayvonte Rice. If the Spartans can stop the scoring from the guards and let the big men try to do the work in the absence of Adreian Payne, it’s a good thing.
Stop Rayvonte Rice - In all honestly, this goal is a lot like the last one, because Rice is one of those three guards. However, he is the best. The junior shooting guard jumped into the spotlight this year and it doesn’t seem like it is a fluke. He’s scoring, rebounding, passing and creating turnovers. He does a lot for this Illini team, and is the undoubted star of this team. MSU’s recipe for victory is simple: contain Rayvonte Rice, win the game. That’s all they need to do. In games this year where Rice doesn’t play at the top of his game, the Illini lose.
So, the question remains. Will MSU dominate Illinois and extend their losing streak Saturday night, or will the Illini come back home and rebound from some tough losses? We’ll find out tonight at 8 p.m.