Beat writer Jeff Huth's breakdown of today's game (3 p.m.) between Michigan State and Illinois:
Illinois (9-6, 2-1)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Alexis Smith So. 5-9 8.5
G Ivory Crawford So. 5-10 13.4
G Amber Moore Jr. 5-11 13.0
G Adrienne GodBold Sr. 5-11 16.3
C Karisma Penn Sr. 6-2 20.0
FYI: Opponents have averaged 28.5 turnovers in Illini’s last four games.
OFF THE BENCH
F Taylor Tuck So. 6-0 5.5
G McKenzie Piper Fr. 6-0 3.1
F Nia Oden So. 5-10 1.9
Michigan State (13-2, 1-1)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Jasmine Thomas Sr. 5-7 9.1
G Klarissa Bell Jr. 5-11 11.9
F Annalise Pickrel Jr. 6-3 9.9
F Courtney Schiffauer Sr. 6-1 7.0
F Becca Mills So. 6-4 10.0
FYI: Bell has averaged 10.3 rebounds in last three games.
OFF THE BENCH
C Jasmine Hines So. 6-3 10.1
G Kiana Johnson So. 5-7 8.7
F Akyah Taylor Fr. 5-11 0.8
Site: Assembly Hall (16,618)
TV: BTN; Mike Wolf (play by play), Patricia Babcock McGraw (analyst), Kara Lentz (sideline)
Radio: WDWS 1400-AM; WDAN 1490-AM; Dave Loane (play by play) and Mike Koon (analyst)
Series: Michigan State leads 35-26
FYI: The Spartans are 7-1 in their last eight trips to Champaign.
Jeff Huth’s storylines
How good is Michigan State’s defense? When No. 8 Penn State gouged the Spartans for 76 points last Sunday, it marked the first time any opponent had scored more than 60 points against Michigan State. But that just scratches the surface on how stingy the Spartans can be. They’ve held six opponents to fewer than 40 points and four others to less than 50. Entering the week, Michigan State ranked second nationally in scoring defense (currently 45.6 points) and fourth in field goal percentage defense (currently 31.4 percent). Opponents are converting merely 24.3 percent of their three-point attempts. ”They’re really good defensively,” Illini coach Matt Bollant said. “They’re just so long — 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 inside — and then (they have) really athletic guards that can keep you in front.”
Bollant has a history with Michigan State and it’s a memory he’ll treasure for the rest of his life. In March 2011, Bollant’s underdog Wisconsin-Green Bay team toppled the Big Ten champion Spartans 65-56 to advance to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the first time in program history. “That was an amazing game,” he said. Certainly, Bollant has a vivid recollection of that breakthrough performance by the Phoenix, and he suspects MSU coach Suzy Merchant still does, too. “It was a big game for us,” Bollant said, “and I’m sure their staff will be fired up for this game because of that.” Green Bay’s Cinderella run ended with its next game, an 86-76 loss to Baylor and the incomparable Brittney Griner (40 points). “As a coach, you’re moving on to the next game pretty fast, getting ready for Brittney Griner, so you don’t really have time to celebrate too much,” Bollant said. “But certainly looking back, that was one of the victories that we remember at Green Bay.”
Illinois will be without one of its top reserves, forward Kersten Magrum, for at least two weeks. The redshirt junior was withheld from Wednesday’s game at Northwestern due to concussion symptoms. She currently is not practicing. Magrum suffered a concussion for the third time during her UI career last fall and now is experiencing recurring symptoms. The luckless Magrum also was sidelined for three games in November with a separated shoulder. She began the season as a starter and has appeared in 11 games, averaging 5.4 points and 4.1 rebounds in 21.0 minutes per game.
Prediction: Illinois 60, Michigan State 59
Entering this season, the Spartans would have been the automatic pick. But Illinois is playing so well lately (just ask Georgia, Purdue, Ohio State) that we’re going to make what nonetheless is still a risky choice. The Illini should be able to feed off the energy from what’s expected to be a large home crowd. The question is, can high-scoring Illinois cope with what can be a smothering Spartan defense? (N-G prediction record 11-4).