Cincinnati.com
Men's College Basketball
Preview
Illinois at Michigan St
When: 7:00 PM ET, Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Where: Breslin Center, East Lansing, Michigan

No. 1 Michigan State looks to clinch at least a tie for the BIg Ten Conference regular-season title when it hosts Illinois on Tuesday. The Spartans have won 10 straight and sit one game above both Ohio State and Purdue in the conference standings entering this contest, while the Illini are coming off a victory over Nebraska on Sunday which snapped a four-game losing skid.

Illinois coach Brad Underwood's team is about defensive pressure on the ball, trying to cause turnovers and overplaying passing lanes, with the Illini forcing 17.4 miscues by opponents per game - leading to 19.2 points. Forward Leron Black has been a key inside for the Illini, leading the team with 15.1 points and 5.5 rebounds a contest, but freshman guard Trent Frazier (12.3 points, 48 3-pointers) can burn opponents from long range. The Spartans have a lot of firepower, led by forwards Miles Bridges (17 points, 6.9 rebounds) and Nick Ward (13.1, 7.6), though coach Tom Izzo's squad doesn't have to rely on any one player as all five starters average in double figures. But it's the defense that sets this Michigan State team apart from others under Izzo, with the team ranking No. 1 in the country in field goal percentage defense (36.2 percent) and blocked shots (7.4) while sitting No. 22 in the nation in scoring defense (64.8 points).

TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

ABOUT ILLINOIS (13-15, 3-12 Big Ten): One thing the Illini can take away from this season is that they'll have a lot of experience coming back, with players who have improved as the season has progressed. One of those is Kipper Nichols, who has averaged 11.8 points over the last 12 contests and is third on the team overall in scoring at 9.8 points a contest despite playing just 18.1 minutes per game. Nichols, a sophomore forward, scored a career-high 27 points in the first matchup with Michigan State this season and will likely draw some extra attention from the Spartans after that performance.

ABOUT MICHIGAN STATE (26-3, 14-2): As great as the Spartans' win at Northwestern on Saturday was, with the team coming back from 27 down to record the biggest come-from-behind win in Big Ten history, it showed how inconsistent the team can be at times. Just two seasons removed from a first-round upset loss in the NCAA Tournament to Middle Tennessee in which the Blue Raiders shot 57.9 percent from 3-point range, Michigan State allowed Northwestern to hit 60 percent from the field in the first half - including 61.5 percent from beyond the arc - before turning it around in the second half and pulling out the win. Izzo will certainly be getting on his team to have more of a killer instinct from the start of games, to impose their will both offensively and defensively.

TIP-INS

1. Illinois is scrappy on the glass, ranking second in the Big Ten with 13.1 offensive rebounds per game.

2. Michigan State G Cassius Winston is No. 1 in the country in 3-point percentage (53.9 percent) and seventh in assists per game (7.1).

3. The Spartans shot 68.2 percent from the floor in the last meeting with Illinois, setting the record for an opponent's shooting percentage in the State Farm Center, the Illini's home arena.

PREDICTION: Michigan State 90, Illinois 77
Stats and Records
Team Comparison
  W/L Strk Home Away Neutral Day Night Conf
Illinois 13-15 W1 12-5 0-9 1-1 4-2 9-13 3-12
Michigan St 26-3 W10 15-1 7-1 4-1 8-2 18-1 14-2
Last Meeting
Illinois Michigan St
Date Away Home Pts Reb FG% Pts Reb FG%
1/22/18 MSU 87 ILL 74 74 12 43.1 87 37 68.2
Player Stats
Previous Matchup
Points Player Total FG% FTM
Illinois K. Nichols 27 64.3 4
Michigan St M. Bridges 31 84.6 7
Rebounds Player Total Off Def
Illinois G. Eboigbodin 3 0 3
Michigan St J. Jackson Jr. 11 2 9
Assists Player  
Illinois D. Williams 4
Michigan St C. Winston 8
Season
Points Player Total FG% FTM
Illinois L. Black 408 56.6 66
Michigan St M. Bridges 476 48.0 77
Rebounds Player Total Off Def
Illinois L. Black 149 53 96
Michigan St N. Ward 219 85 134
Assists Player  
Illinois T. Frazier 78
Michigan St C. Winston 204
Quickchart Matchup
blue bar Illinois Off vs  red bar Michigan St Defense
blue bar 74.9 Points For
red bar 64.8 Points Against
blue bar 43.6 FG%
red bar 36.2 FG%
blue bar 31.3 Reb
red bar 27.2 Reb
red bar Michigan St Off vs  blue bar Illinois Defense
red bar 82.6 Points For
blue bar 72.9 Points Against
red bar 51.5 FG%
blue bar 46.7 FG%
red bar 38.9 Reb
blue bar 30.3 Reb