No. 10 Michigan State and No. 24 Illinois figure to be right in the Big Ten championship picture down to the final week of the season and Tuesday’s matchup could lay the groundwork for what is coming down the stretch.
Michigan State has split its four games against ranked opponents while Illinois is 0-2 against Top 25 teams.
The visiting Spartans are the only team in the Big Ten that is undefeated in true road games while Illinois is 8-2 at home.
Illinois (+225) has the best odds to win the Big Ten title while Michigan State (+400) is tied for the third-best odds. Illinois (+2800) and Michigan State (+3900) are listed with the second and third-best odds to win the national title among Big Ten teams.
- Game: Michigan State (15-3) at Illinois (13-5)
- Location: State Farm Center, Champaign, Illinois
- Day/Time: Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET
- Television: ESPN
Michigan State Spartans at Illinois Fighting Illini
MSU Shooting Right on Target
It isn’t too hard to figure out when the Michigan State Spartans have it together.
Michigan State has connected on more than 50 percent of its shots in five of the last eight games and has won each of them, including a decisive victory at Wisconsin the last time out.
This success has come even though the Spartans’ assist/turnover numbers are nothing to write home about. In the last four games, Michigan State has just five more assists than turnovers, yet the Spartans are 3-1 during that stretch.
It helps that freshman Max Christie is really starting to find an offensive rhythm. He is averaging 13.8 points on 55.6 percent shooting. It is probably not a coincidence that his lone tough shooting night during that stretch came in the loss to Northwestern, when he missed seven of his eight shots.
Christie isn’t receiving the buzz of some of the other freshmen in the Big Ten, but he has something none of those newcomers can boast — being part of the first-place team in the conference.
It will be interesting to see if the Spartans can remain atop the standings during their toughest stretch of games to date. It started with the win at Wisconsin. After playing at Illinois, there will be a home game against Michigan. A rematch with Wisconsin will come on Feb. 8.
Michigan State is just 2-4 in its last six games against the college basketball spreads.
Illini Hope Star Center Cockburn is Back Soon
Illinois was rolling right along, dispatching conference foes with relative ease. The first four games the Illini played in January, all against conference foes, were double-digit wins. That included a 15-point home win against a Michigan team that came into the season as one of the favorites to win the Big Ten title.
However, a 96-88 loss in overtime to Purdue was followed by a 16-point defeat at Maryland. What did those games have in common? National player of the year candidate Kofi Cockburn didn’t play because he was in concussion protocol.
Cockburn is considered questionable on Tuesday and if he misses his third consecutive game, it will be even more challenging to knock Michigan State out of first place.
Illinois was outrebounded in both of those games, something that probably doesn’t happen with the 7-footer in the lineup, considering that Cockburn is the top rebounder in the conference with an average of 11.8.
Izzo’s response: “HAVE YOU SEEN HIM?!” pic.twitter.com/ffnNtbmyFS
— Marlee Wierda (@marleewierda) January 24, 2022
The Fighting Illini opened the season without Cockburn, who needed to be cleared by the NCAA after declaring for the NBA Draft and then returning to school. The difference is that some of those earlier games were against overmatched non-conference opponents. Now, Illinois is in the heart of the Big Ten schedule.
Illinois has covered against the Las Vegas odds in eight of its last 12 games.
Another Tough Road Test for Michigan State
If both teams are at full strength, it will be a matchup of two of the top rebounding teams in the Big Ten. Illinois leads the conference with 42.1 rebounds per game and is second to Purdue in rebounding margin. Michigan State ranks third in both categories, but the Spartans are leading the conference with 6.4 blocked shots per game.
Illinois has covered in 14 of the last 20 games against Michigan State. However, the line of five could pose a challenge for the Fighting Illini playing a scrappy and talented Spartans team.
Those who bet online might be interested to know that the total has gone over in 11 of the last 14 Illinois games, as well as in seven of the last nine Michigan State games.
Pick: Over 141½
Pick: Michigan State Spartans+5