Previewing MSU vs. Illinois

There were a lot of photos like this to choose from. - USA TODAY Sports

Game time: 7 p.m. ET
Location: Jack Breslin Student Events Center, East Lansing, Mich.
TV: ESPN
Online streaming: WatchESPN.com (ESPN3 in the Western U.S.)
Radio: Spartan Sports Network

Here's your preview: Illinois is going to take a lot of three-pointers. If they make a lot of them, they could win this thing. If they miss most of them, they'll lose.

You want more? Fine.

MSU returns home following two encouraging road games: a win at Wisconsin and a loss at Indiana. Coming to Breslin are the Fighting Illini, who got off to a 12-0 start with wins over Butler and at Gonzaga to rise to No. 10 in the AP Poll, but it's been a hard crash back to Earth. Illinois has lost six of its last nine games and sit at 2-5 in the Big Ten.

KenPom wasn't as much of a believer in the Illini, moving them as high as No. 25. They're currently No. 56.

As mentioned, this Illinois team likes to chuck. They take an average of 24.6 three-pointers per game. Given three-point shooting is often a crapshoot, the Illinois aren't very effective at making them, shooting just 32.7 percent, which ranks No. 209 in the country (and 24.5 percent in Big Ten play, which is last). That's not what you want to shoot when 3s are a key to your offense — 41.7 percent of their field-goal attempts are 3s, but just 33.5 percent of their scoring comes from behind the three-point arc.

Just one player in the rotation shoots better than 35 percent from 3: Joe Bertrand (8.5 points per game, 4.5 rebounds, 37.5 percent on 3s). The top guy on offense is Brandon Paul (17.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 29.5 percent usage rate). D.J. Richardson is the No. 2 scorer (11.8 points, 4.6 rebounds) and has taken the most 3s (150). That's half the number of 3s MSU has taken as a team (301). Tracy Abrams is the other point guard (11.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 26 percent usage rate).

As a team, their adjO is No. 40 in the nation, but their eFG% of 49.3 percent is No. 133. The Illini don't turn the ball over very much (18.4 percent, No. 68) and, despite being a jump-shooting team, they shoot 49.5 percent on 2s, with Tyler Griffey (7.3 points, 3.3 rebounds) and Nnanna Egwu (6.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 45.9 percent on 2s) leading the way inside.

Given the Illini shoot so many 3s, they don't get to the free-throw line very often. Seven guys average more than 20 minutes, with Myke Henry right around 10 minutes.

Defensively, the Illini aren't quite as good. The adjD is No. 82 in the country. Opponents shoot 34.5 percent on 3s (No. 217) and 46.4 percent on 2s (No. 146). That last number surprises me a bit because, from watching Illinois take on Michigan, the Illini just seem really soft inside. I expect MSU to go inside to Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne early and often. They shouldn't need to rely on the 3 like they did against Indiana.

Being a guard-heavy lineup, the Illini get a decent number of steals (11.5 percent) and force some turnovers (22 percent). MSU seemed to have been taking care of the turnover bug before a dreadful performance against Indiana, though some of that could be contributed to Keith Appling battling foul trouble.

On the glass, Illinois gets a decent amount of offensive rebounds (34.5 percent), but the eye test tells me part of this is due to the number of long rebounds off missed 3s. On the other end, Illinois is one of the worst at allowing offensive rebounds (33.6 percent, No. 245).

So, again, Illinois is going to put up a lot of 3s. If they fall, this could be a close game. If they don't, it won't. KenPom predicts a 72-62 MSU win, giving the Spartans an 82 percent chance of winning.

If MSU is to contend for the Big Ten, the Spartans have to win the next three, and that starts with Illinois on Thursday.

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