Know Thy Enemy: Spartans to face potential NBA talent when facing Illinois
If Michigan State wants to erase Saturday’s upset loss to Indiana, the Spartans will have to get past a surging Illinois team on the road.
The Spartans (18-4, 9-2 Big Ten) travel to Champaign to take on the Illini (7-15, 3-8) on Tuesday, but Illinois has won two of the last three, both coming against teams ranked in the AP Top-25 at some point in the season (Maryland and Nebraska), while MSU has dropped back-to-back games for the first time all season.
To preview the game, The State News interviewed Stephen Cohn, an editor at the SB Nation affiliate Champaign Room.
Here’s what he had to say:
Editor’s note: some quotes have been edited for clarity.
Q: Illinois has won two of the last three, both against teams that were ranked at some point in the season, what have they been doing right as of late and how can that translate into Tuesday?
Cohn: I don’t know, it’s tough to see them doing anything right because the games are ugly a lot of the time. They’re finally getting production from more guys than Ayo Dosunmu and I feel it’s different distributors actually showing up every game. So like Tevian Jones was suspended for half the season and now he shows up, gets double-digits in two straight games, had 18 against Maryland. Against Nebraska, Kipper Nichols, a redshirt junior, didn’t score for five straight games, so he may as well have been suspended at that point, he scores 18 against Nebraska. He comes alive and makes a bunch of really difficult shots.
So suddenly, you’re getting production from the bench and those are the points that were missing … once they had someone else actually scoring, it just changed everything. So it’s not like there’s one thing they are doing, I feel it’s just more guys actually producing offense.
Q: You talked about Ayo (Dosunmu) and he’s up to 14.6 points a game in Big Ten play, what makes him so hard to stop?
Cohn: It’s really cool for once to see what a really, really talented basketball player looks like. Because, obviously, he’s going to be in the NBA just because you can’t stop him in transition. There were moments against Maryland’s Bruno Fernando, the big guy, he just moved right past him.
He’s so quick and the fact he can actually shoot is such a plus, because coming out of high school nobody knew if he could actually be a shooter. … So just the combination of being so good in transition, actually having a jump shot and then being a lockdown defender, he can do anything you need him to do.
Q: What does Illinois have to do right in order to pull an upset?
Cohn: Last year, Trent Frazier was like one of the top scorers, maybe even the top freshman scorer in the Big Ten, he may have been No. 2 or something. And so then you get Ayo this year and a lot of people expected like 'they’re going to play so well off each other' and, except for maybe a game or two, they really haven’t scored a bunch in the same game. It’s either one of them’s on and the other is off, or vice versa. So to pull such a big upset, like against Maryland, Maryland played really bad and that really helped. Illinois really beat up Minnesota — that was like a whole team effort. And Nebraska was god awful.
I think for Illinois to actually beat a talented team like Michigan State, they’re going to need Ayo and Trent to each score 20-plus because Illinois is gonna have to win this game in the 80s if they’re going to win because there’s no way they’re going to shut down MSU to like 50 points.
Cohn: MSU 85, Illinois 65.