HQ men's hoops prediction: MSU 63, UI 57
Illinois at No. 18 Michigan St.,
3 p.m. Saturday
Illinois (16-12, 5-10 Big Ten)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams Jr. 6-2 10.9
G Kendrick Nunn Fr. 6-3 5.7
G Rayvonte Rice Jr. 6-4 16.0
G/F Malcolm Hill Fr. 6-6 4.0
C Nnanna Egwu Jr. 6-11 7.0
FYI: In Wednesday’s win against Nebraska, Abrams committed no turnovers to go along with five assists, the fourth time this season he has not turned the ball over.
OFF THE BENCH
F Jon Ekey Sr. 6-7 7.4
G Joseph Bertrand Sr. 6-6 9.5
G Jaylon Tate Fr. 6-3 2.1
Michigan State (22-6, 11-4 Big Ten)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Keith Appling Sr. 6-1 13.6
G Gary Harris So. 6-4 17.9
G Denzel Valentine So. 6-5 8.3
F Matt Costello So. 6-9 4.7
F Adreian Payne Sr. 6-10 16.4
FYI: MSU, which lost its last game to Michigan, is 5-0 this season in games following a loss, and the Spartans are averaging 79.8 points in those games.
OFF THE BENCH
F Branden Dawson Jr. 6-6 10.2
F Kenny Kaminski Fr. 6-8 5.9
G Travis Trice Jr. 6-0 7.1
Site: Breslin Center (14,797), East Lansing, Mich.
TV: ESPN2 — Bob Wischusen (play-by-play) and Dan Dakich (analyst) have the call.
Radio: Brian Barnhart (play-by-play) and former Illini Jerry Hester (expert analysis) have the call on the Illini Sports Network on WDWS 1400-AM, WDAN 1490-AM, WHMS 97.5-FM, WDNL 102.1-FM and WPXN 104.9-FM.
Series: Michigan State leads 57-56. Last meeting: No. 4 Michigan State 78, Illinois 62, Jan. 18, (Champaign).
FYI: The Illini have lost six straight to the Spartans in East Lansing, dating back to 2007. The last victory was a 75-68 win in Dee Brown’s last visit there in 2006.
Marcus Jackson’s storylines
1. For much of the season, Michigan State has been dealing with injuries to key players. Harris, Payne, Appling and Dawson all have missed games. Dawson could return today after missing the previous nine games with a broken hand and is expected to come off the bench. Five of the Spartans’ six losses occurred with Dawson sidelined. “I think he’s one of the best offensive rebounders in the country,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “He brings that for sure. He also brings a toughness to their team. He’s athletic; he’s physically strong. He has the ability to post the ball, drive the ball. I think the glass and just the toughness he brings are the things that stand out to me having coached against him now two years in a row.”
2. While freshmen Nunn and Hill have thrived since being inserted in the starting lineup, the guys they replaced, Ekey and Bertrand, have been somewhat of a mixed bag in their new roles. For the first time since the switch, the duo thrived in the same game during Wednesday’s win against Nebraska — Ekey with eight points and six boards, Bertrand with six points and two offensive rebounds. Nine of Illinois’ 27 first-half points against the Huskers were a result of offensive rebounds by the two. “Our effort off the bench with Bertrand and Ekey was off the charts,” Groce said. “Collectively off the bench (they) maybe played their best game coming off in that role.”
3. In preparing for Michigan State, whether the Spartans are at full strength or banged up, opposing teams know they better prepare for a physical battle. The last time these teams met, big man Payne was sidelined with a foot injury. He’s back in the lineup along with Dawson, and the bigs coming off the bench will be a load, too. Illinois has played with a level of toughness lately. It’s going to have to be taken up another level against the Spartans. “They’re one of the most physical teams in the country,” Egwu said. “This is a whole different beast, Michigan State. They’re one-of-a-kind. They keep attacking you on the glass, and you have to be relentless trying to keep them off.”
No. 18 Michigan State 63, Illinois 57
What a difference two weeks makes. Not long ago, most folks outside the Illinois program were wondering if the Illini would even be considered for a bid in the CBI, let alone the NIT. The NCAA tournament was and remains a pipe dream. That hasn’t stopped some die-hards from dreaming big, playing out scenarios in which Illinois would win out the regular season to get to 8-10 in the Big Ten with momentum entering the conference tournament and receiving an at-large bid to the Dance. A win today would advance that conversation, though it’s going to be a tall task with the Spartans getting back to full health. Regardless of where it’s at, these Illini, young and old, want to play beyond the Big Ten tournament. “It would mean a lot. I’ve been to the tournament twice, been to the NIT once. We definitely want to play in the postseason and go as far as we can,” Bertrand said. The four-letter tournament isn’t likely, but the fact that some are dreaming about it tells how far the Illini have come in recent weeks. A season that appeared dead during an eight-game losing streak has piqued some interest. (N-G prediction record: 22-6)