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Michigan State Basketball: Illinois Preview

Michigan State has its first home game of the Big Ten Conference season against the Illinois Fighting Illini who have started conference play 0-2

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Game Info

Opponent: Illinois

Location: East Lansing, MI

Time: 9:00pm EST

Channel: ESPN

KenPom Line: MSU -17

Scouting report

  • 6'6" junior Malcolm Hill is the Illini's best player and he (like Nate Mason from last game) is probably a better outside shooter than his 32% from 3 would indicate. Aside from his 3P% he also posts solid all-around stats with good FT%, steal, block, assist (for a wing), and FT rates. Based on his change in assisted 3P% from hoop-math from last to this year (95.2% last year to 76.2% this year) it appears he's taking a lot more pull-up 3's rather than spot-up which would explain his 7 point drop in 3P% (39% last year). Because they've lost so many bigs due to injury, Hill starts as their 4 so I wouldn't be surprised if MSU goes smaller in this game.
  • 6'3" Kendrick Nunn is probably their second best player and he's also a bit out of position playing the 3 which is nice for MSU as MSU will have a small 3 of their own in Eron Harris. Nunn was out the first 5 games in which Illinois took a couple bad losses and since he's returned, they've had only acceptable losses. He's a good scorer and solid defensive rebounder but doesn't bring a ton outside of that in terms of playmaking or getting to the line.
  • 6'10" freshman Michael Finke is a stretch 5 who's shooting over 40% from 3 and 64% from 2. Scoring isn't the issue, it appears rebounding and defense is the issue for him as he posts just a 12.5% DReb% (That's Eron Harris-level). Due to injuries to Mike Thorne and Leron Black, Illinois has had to throw Finke into the mix. Michigan's Mark Donnal scored 26 points on 10-13 shooting (3-4 from the line) against them and he's not exactly known as a bruiser down-low. I fully expect Matt Costello to have a field day in the post and I don't think it's hyperbole to say it's likely he gets a career high in points. Maverick Morgan is their other big who's much more of a post player but still "meh" DReb%.
  • 6'3" freshman Jalen Coleman-Lands is a 3-point shooter (42%) who has shot over three times as many 3's as 2's. Aside from that, there's not a ton else he does offensively where he has a low assist and free throw rate.
  • Jaylon Tate and Khalid Lewis are their point guards and are very Nairn-esque in that they have a low usage and aren't shooters/scorers. They both have decent assist rates but pretty poor turnover rates to go along with it.
  • As a team Illinois is a good shooting team (37% from 3, 77th nationally), they don't turn the ball over, they are a solid defensive rebounding, and they don't foul. However, they also allow their opponents to show well from 3 (and everywhere else from the field) and they allow a high number of 3's which is a really bad combination. They're one of the smaller teams in the B1G without a 4-man taller than 6'7" so MSU should be looking to crash the offensive glass.

Four Factors

MSU on Offense

MSU on Defense

Things to watch for

  • As I said, Matt Costello and the other bigs are probably going to have a field day in the post. I'm not sure how many teams have 3 back-to-the-basket bigs as good as Costello, Deyonta Davis, and Gavin Schilling but you can probably count them on one hand. Illinois only has two true bigs on its roster so if one or both of Finke (not foul-prone) and Morgan (foul-prone) get into foul trouble then things could get ugly fast.
  • Which of the backup wings wants to earn playing time? Between Matt McQuaid and Alvin Ellis, Izzo has a couple wings capable of breaking into the rotation but they've been very bad the past couple of games. Bryn Forbes, Harris, and Valentine (when he returns) are going to take up the bulk of the wing minutes which probably leaves room for only one of McQuaid and Ellis to receive serious minutes. McQuaid seems to have the edge with his better outside shooting but Ellis has more experience on his side.
  • Big or small? After MSU's small lineup didn't exactly work in the Oakland and Iowa games, Izzo went big against Minnesota as Bess and Clark "conveniently" had injury issues. However, Illinois doesn't at all have a big frontcourt so there's a decent likelihood that MSU goes smaller than they did last game if Clark/Bess are healthy. Izzo has been talking about Davis playing more at the 4 and using lateral quickness to stay in front of smaller 4's but if there's a B1G team that you play small against, it's probably Illinois.
Bottom Line

A loss at home to Illinois would be very bad for MSU even with Valentine out. MSU should be able to handle them barring a barrage of Illinois 3's.

MSU 77 - Illinois 66