Previewing MSU at Illinois

USA TODAY Sports
Your Michigan State Spartans vs. the Illinois Fighting Illini
State Farm Center - Champaign, Ill.
Jan. 18, 2014, 8 p.m.

TV: BTN
Online streaming: BTN2Go

On Jan. 8, Illinois was 13-2 and ranked No. 23 in the country. John Groce's team was 2-0 in the conference, and an already-deep Big Ten had another quality team in Illinois.

Then the Illini lost by 25 at Wisconsin. Then they scored 43 points in a loss at Northwestern. Then they lost at home to Purdue. Suddenly, Illinois is reeling in a big way and the NCAA Tournament is in question as MSU comes to town.

MSU is beaten up. They haven't been playing great, but they've continued to win. Is a "bad" loss coming? Illinois is No. 74 in KenPom with a 3-3 record against KenPom top-100 wins, 0-2 against top-50. MSU is 4-0 in true road games this season, with all coming b double-digits.

The Illini struggle offensively, ranked No. 187 in adjO. They're ranked higher than 200 in 3P% and 2P%. They don't turn it over much (15.3%, No. 26), but they don't get to the free-throw line (33.1, No. 319).

Offensively, this is pretty much a two-man show: guards Rayvonte Rice and Tracy Abrams. Rice averages 17.7 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, shooting 52 percent on 2s and 32 percent on 3s. Abrams is averaging 12.7 points and 3.3 assists per game. Both have usage rates higher than 26 percent, while no one else reaches 22 percent. Joseph Bertrand averages 11 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Big man Nnanna Egwu has an incredible 40 blocks through 18 games.

This Illinois team has been good on the defensive end, ranked No. 30 in adjD. They're No. 50 in 2P defense and No. 149 in 3P defense. They don't force many turnovers, but opponents aren't getting to the line.

The Illini are pretty good on the glass, grabbing 35.6 percent on the offensive end (No. 67). Opponents are getting 30.3 percent (No. 125).

Adreian Payne is again "very questionable" for the game. Everyone else should be available again, but the usual ailments are still there, perhaps adding in Keith Appling's shoulder after it almost came out in the last game.

Illinois is No. 295 in tempo, so I expect this to be another ugly game similar to the Northwestern affair.

KenPom predicts a 66-60 MSU win, giving the Spartans a 74 percent chance of victory.

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