Illinois vs. Michigan State
Tonight begins a stretch of three consecutive home contests for the Illini after starting the new year with four of five games on the road. Unfortunately, home fans may see the Illini drop below .500 for the first time in the first game back.
Michigan State is currently ranked ninth in the country, but likely still represents the Big Ten’s best Final Four contender. The Spartans have lost two of their last four games, in not-too-close fashion to Ohio State and Michigan, but don’t think for a moment that means they’re primed for another upset.
Led by future lottery pick Miles Bridges, the Spartans’ lineup is fearsome. Bridges is the only player in the nation averaging 16 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 block per game, but he’s just one of five on the team scoring in double figures per game. Fellow forwards Nick Ward and Jaren Jackson are averaging 14.5 and 11.4 points, respectively, and both grab north of 6 rebounds per game as well. Starting guards Cassius Winston (12.6 points, 7 assists) and Joshua Langford (13.2 points) round out a starting five that can hang with anyone.
Of course, the flaws in MSU’s system have been exploited, and recently, so it’s not completely out of the question for Illinois to pull off a surprise victory. Anyone who watched even half of the uninspired loss at Wisconsin, however, will be forgiven for writing off any chance Illinois might have.