Michigan State vs. Illinois Preview - The Band's Back Together!

Joe Robbins

For the first time in seemingly forever, MSU will have all of its players healthy (knock on wood) to face a resilient Illini team.

YOUR MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS vs. THE ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI

THE JACK BRESLIN STUDENT EVENTS CENTER, EAST LANSING, MI

SATURDAY, MARCH 1ST, 4:00 PM EASTERN

TV: ESPN2

RADIO: SPARTAN SPORTS NETWORK

At last, at long, long, last, everyone is healthy for the Spartans - at least healthy enough to play, anyway. Branden Dawson returned to practice for the first time in a month yesterday, and Tom Izzo says the junior forward will definitely see playing time in tomorrow's contest against the Illini:

"(Dawson) and A.P. will play together some, and it will also give us some great benefits defensively when we play against bigger guards and we need somebody to defend," Izzo said. "Dawson's minutes will go up each game. If he does start, it wouldn't be early and then we'll just see."

Dawson will be wearing a brace on his hand for the rest of the season, so it'll be interesting to see how the brace affects his offense. If the brace hinders his jumper to the point where his only offense is a repertoire of tip-ins, lay-ups, and highlight-reel dunks, well, that's not really a bad thing.

As for the Illini, they've won three and lost 6 since they played the Spartans, but two of those wins have come in their last two games, at Minnesota and home against Nebraska (yup, that one still stings).   With that win against the Cornhuskers, the Big Ten hit a strange milestone:

Thus continues 2013-2014: the season the Big Ten let its freak flag fly.

There are things on the basketball court the Spartans can do to win this game. Scoring more points than Illinois is one such key. Here are three more:

  • Get turnovers. The Illini are in the three hundreds in KenPom in both effective field goal percentage and and drawing fouls on offense. The one thing they do well is hold on to the ball; their turnover percentage of 16.3% in Division 1. Having Dawson back will be key -- he has the second-best steal rate on the team.
  • Make threes, please. In the Illini's past three games, they've held opponents to under 25% shooting from three. While the Illini are quite good at defensive 3PT% (32.7%, 85th in D1), there's debate over whether defensive 3PT% is a true barometer of a team's defensive abilities. Hopefully Gary Harris, Travis Trice, Kenny Kaminski, Adreian Payne, and Denzel Valentine can each hit a couple to beat a top-20 in Division 1 Illini defense.
  • Keep workin' on the chemistry. Everyone's healthy. While Dawson most likely will not start, which will screw with the rotations a bit, his entrance back into the Spartan squad will hopefully spur more of a balanced offense. Here's to forcing more offense around the basket and less settling for threes.
While MSU no longer controls their own destiny for a Big Ten regular season title, there's still plenty to play for. They need to win their last three games to guarantee the #2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament (Wisconsin owns the tiebreaker, and the Badgers are one game behind the Spartans currently), climb seed lines in the NCAA tournament, and maybe most importantly, gain back some of the confidence that has been sporadic in the last month. While it's not the start of a new season on Saturday, for the Spartans' purposes, it might as well be.
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