Fighting valiantly to the end, the Michigan State Spartans sustained their first tough setback in a while on Saturday, losing to the Indiana Hoosiers in a closely contested game at Assembly Hall. Despite the loss, the Spartans should be buoyed by the fact that their inspired play should lead to more winning in the future and keep them near the top three of the Big Ten standings.
Next up are the Illinois Fighting Illini, a team coming off plenty of recent tough times despite their excellent start. Illinois will still come packing plenty of potential and star power, looking to place a major dent in Michigan State’s title hopes. Without focus and intensity, the Spartans might find themselves in a bad spot. How will they avoid this? Spartan Jump Shots previews the only meeting between these two traditional Big Ten powers during the 2012-13 year.
Michigan State’s Key To Victory: Quality three point shooting.
Facing the Hoosiers in their hostile environment, the Spartans hit plenty of their shots, including 11 of 23 three pointers. This helped Michigan State hang around and put a major scare into Indiana. Against a team which could get hot in a hurry, the Spartans will need all their guns to be firing, especially from beyond the three point arch. Everyone knows Michigan State will work the paint and have a solid midrange game with Branden Dawson, but if they spread the floor, their complete danger is showcased. If the three point barrage continues, it will help the offense have a leg up on all the competition.
Illinois’ Key To Victory: Tough defense.
One of the keys behind Michigan State’s loss was their ugly amount of turnovers. Indiana was able to get in passing lanes and cash in on some Spartan sloppiness for easy baskets, which made the difference in their five point win. To win at the Breslin Center, Illinois needs to do the same thing. That might be a big task, considering the Illini rank 159th in opponent points per game, and 119th in opponent shooting percentage. Those numbers don’t lend much hope towards stopping a Michigan State team no doubt motivated to bounce back with a big effort after firing on all cylinders over the weekend. If Illinois wants to beat the Spartans, it will be a team effort from D.J. Richardson to Brandon Paul on down.
The X-Factors: Keith Appling and Brandon Paul
It was the classic case of spilled milk. Had Appling not gotten in plenty of early foul trouble, the Spartans could have scored a huge road win against the Indiana Hoosiers. In spite of that, Michigan State still played well enough to win in the end. If Appling has a better game early against Illinois, Michigan State will be in great shape across the board.
Paul is an x-factor from the standpoint that he’s always a big game waiting to happen. His 35 points against Gonzaga led an Illinois win. In two other big victories over Butler and Ohio State, Paul scored 20 and 19 points respectively, taking a leading role for the Fighting Illini. Lately, he hasn’t shown up, only scoring 15 in a blowout loss to Michigan. Paul needs to go off in order for Illinois to have a chance at winning. Michigan State’s attack is far too balanced, so all hands will be needed on deck, led by Paul’s effort first.
Most Important “State” Stats Of The Game: 33.3 percent shooting with 39 rebounds, numbers which represent the outstanding defensive effort the Fightining Illini showed in early January’s upset win over Ohio State. The Buckeyes could never get anything going on the road, and were locked down by a committed defensive effort which forced plenty of missed shots. Illinois also outrebounded the Buckeyes by 11 grabbing an astonishing amount of boards, showcasing the type of scrap they’ll need to duplicate in order to survive a tough team and a tough road environment in East Lansing.
Intangibles: Spartan mentality after a tough loss.
As we have mentioned, Michigan State is typically excellent coming off a loss. Saturday’s defeat against Indiana was no ordinary loss, as the Spartans fought tooth and nail to the end, nearly getting the job done on the road against one of the nation’s top teams. How big of an asset will this mentality be for Michigan State, or will there be a stunning, unexpected letdown?
Prediction: Michigan State is playing at a higher level right now, as evidence by the respect they received in the national polls despite a tough loss. Illinois has been heading in the other direction, losers of many tough Big Ten games lately, many of which haven’t even been close. Given this, the Spartans get the job done with a solid, inside out effort. Of course Illinois doesn’t go away easily, but Michigan State gets big games from Dawson, Appling and Derrick Nix inside to bounce back right.
Michigan State 72, Illinois 61
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax