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Illinois Basketball Travel To Desperate Michigan State

Coming off of a nail-biting finish against Nebraska at home, the Illinois basketball team travels to East Lansing. The Illini got a mini-bye week with no midweek game between the Sunday overtime win and this road test against the Spartans



Feb 4, 2024; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini guard Justin Harmon (4) holds head coach Brad Underwood back during the first half against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at State Farm Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off of a nail-biting finish against Nebraska at home, the Illinois basketball team travels to East Lansing. The Illini got a mini-bye week with no midweek game between the Sunday overtime win and this road test against the Spartans. Tom Izzo’s squad needs this win, one of just two ranked opponents left on their schedule. Michigan State took a bruising loss to Minnesota during the week, pushing them closer to the bubble again.

1. Mix and Match

The last time these teams faced off, Illinois basketball was coming off the loss to Purdue on the road. Zach Edey guarded Ty Rodgers in that game and completely neutralized him. This was a move that some thought would be replicable by centers around the league. However, Rodgers toasted the Spartans’ centers in the first half, scoring 12 points early and attacking their slower-footed frontcourt. Will Izzo go back to putting the Spartans’ biggest player on Rodgers and camping in the paint? It helped them on the glass, allowing the 12th team in the Big Ten in rebounds per game to go +3 on the glass in Champaign. It also helped them to guard the Illini’s matchup hunting with Marcus Domask. AJ Hoggard is one of the only guards in the conference who can both stay in front of Domask while also having the size and strength to not get backed down. With Michigan State’s centers sitting behind him zoning off Rodgers, he can be even more physical at the point of attack. Illinois scored just 71 points, their second least in a win this year.

2. Variables

Another thing that could shift the matchups is the return of Terrence Shannon Jr. Illinois basketball missed their top dog in the first matchup. Will Shannon Jr. draw Hoggard off of Domask? Hoggard did well against Shannon Jr. last year during the lone clash. However, outside of Hoggard Michigan State doesn’t have many guys who can check Domask. If Shannon Jr. gets one of Jaden Akins or Tyson Walker, he will need to punish those matchups. Both of those defenders can give him trouble with the quickness and hands attacking his handle, but Shannon Jr. has almost a half-foot and 40 pounds on both. Walker has been battling a groin issue, which flared up against Minnesota. He missed practice during the week, but it would be surprising if he missed the game given the Spartans’ dire situation. If Shannon Jr. can pull Hoggard off of Domask, the Illini will have a number of options.

3. Stakes

After a three-game losing streak from Wisconsin, Illinois basketball will enter this matchup in sole second place, just a loss behind leaders Purdue. The Illini also are projected as a high four or low three seed in the NCAA Tournament. In a down year for the Big Ten, this is one of three prime opportunities for the Illini to get a resume win. However, the flip side is also true. Izzo’s 25-year streak of making the tournament is very much on the line for the Spartans. The Breslin Center when Michigan State is on the ropes is one of the toughest places to play. The Illini learned this themselves when Ayo Dosunmu had a facial fracture in a late-season loss in East Lansing. Izzo will have his team revved up and ready to go. They likely believe they should’ve won in Champaign. While this is not a big or athletic team, expect the Spartans to give the Illini one of their most physical games of the year. Illinois needs to match this physicality while not going overboard. They are the better team, and as long as they don’t beat themselves, they can get a huge win.

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Brian is a former sports writer for the Daily Illini who has been covering Illinois Basketball for over 5 years. Brian is now the lead basketball reporter for Armchair Illini, the go-to source for Illinois athletics news. He has had work published on Bleacher Report, Verbal Commits, USA Today and more.