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Preview: Michigan State vs. Illinois

3:30 P.M. (ET), SATURDAY

Illini bullets:

  • 8-5 non-con record.  Notable wins against Clemson and Vanderbilt; losses to Utah, Bradley (!), Georgia, Mizzou, and Gonzaga.
  • 4-0 in conference (tied with MSU for first, obviously).  Home wins against Northwestern, Iowa and Penn State, and a road victory against Indiana.
  • Rated #52 in the country and 6th in the conference by KenPom.  67th nationally in offensive efficiency, and 50th in defensive efficiency.
  • 8 Illini players (McCamey, Tisdale, Davis, Richardson, Paul, Keller, Cole, and Jordan) average at least 14 minutes per game.  Four of them average more than 10 points per game (McCamey 14.8, Tisdale 12.8, Davis 11.2, Richardson 10.9).  Tisdale is additionally one of the better free throw shooting big men you'll ever see: 52/61 on the year (85.2%).
  • Illinois is not a particularly good offensive rebounding team (33.6%, 152nd nationally), nor are they an exceptional good shooting team (51.3% eFG, 89th nationally).  However, they don't turn the ball over very often (17.2% TO rate, 24th nationally).  In terms of tempo, the Illini are strictly middle of the pack, and exactly even with MSU: 68.7 possessions per game (157th nationally; national average is 68.3).
Illinois comes into the game undefeated in the conference, but as you've surely heard, those victories have come against the dregs of the league.  And, indeed, it's lucky for them that they haven't faced stronger competition in the past three games, as they've had very mediocre offensive performances against arguably the league's worst three teams:

Opponent Off. Efficiency eFG% TO% OR% FTR
Iowa 99.9 46.4 20.3 38.9 16.1
Indiana 99.2 42.4 16.5 31.3 84.8
Penn St. 89.2 46.3 16.5 19.1 11.1

The Illini have been saved by good ball-handling (and, in the Indiana game, the highest free throw rate I've ever seen), but those numbers are not good.  Rebounding must be a particular concern, as the OR% has become progressively worse over the past three games, and three of the four factors against Penn State are somewhere between mildly bad and very, very bad.  (To be fair, PSU has been a bit of a bugaboo for Illinois, but, c'mon, PSU isn't very good and that's a home game.)

Demetri McCamey and Mike Tisdale are clearly the headliners for the Illini.  Tisdale, in particular, has had a very strong year: 59.4% eFG (exclusively from 2-pointers; he hasn't attempted a three yet this season), the aforementioned 85% free throw clip, and 34 blocks (5th in the conference).  McCamey leads the team in points per game, leads the conference in assists (5.88/game), is 5th in the conference in steals (1.76/game), and is 5th in assist/turnover ratio (1.92).

The Illini don't take a ton of 3-pointers (26.5 3PA/FGA, 298th in the country), but when they do, they can hit them: McCamey shoots 37% from three, and freshman D.J. Richardson's 47.1% clip (2nd in the conference) is no fluke: he has 33 threes on the season. Conversely, Illinois opponents tend to shoot a ton of threes: their 40.0 defensive 3PA/FGA is 326th in the country; the number seems particularly high against a team that doesn't play a ton of zone defense.

Theoretically, MSU shouldn't turn the ball over a ton, as Illinois is only 225th in the country in defensive TO%, but as has been discussed here, MSU has done reasonably well against teams that tend to force a ton of turnovers (e.g., Minnesota) and poorly against teams that don't (Iowa).  This has obviously been a point of emphasis for Izzo since the Iowa game; if State does a good job taking care of the ball, we should be in good shape.  This is particularly so in light of Illinois' recent shooting woes: we clearly don't want to be giving easy basket opportunities to a team that has a 45% eFG in the past three games.

Statistics aside, I'm sure we'd all like to see a more assertive game from Kalin Lucas.  McCamey will present a significant, but not overwhelming, defensive matchup; drives into the paint should, at the very least, open up three-point opportunities.  If Chris Allen can knock down a few of those, it'd surely instill confidence in both players.

KenPom predicts a 75-65 MSU victory.  A good result would make a 6-0 start to the season quite likely (with Iowa coming to town next Wednesday); furthermore, Illinois' next game is at home against Purdue, and Wisconsin plays a hot OSU team in Columbus tomorrow, so these next two home games present a fantastic opportunity for MSU to potentially open up a 2-game lead in the conference race by next Wednesday.