Pre-gamin’: Illinois vs Michigan State

8:00 March 1, 2017


Radio: 97.5 FM WHMS 1400 AM WDWS

Questions Worth Asking

Just going for one big question today: Is Illinois’ recent winning streak a result of significantly improved play or lesser competition? The Illini have looked better of late, and their defense certainly looks more active. Illinois’ recent victories have come against Northwestern twice (KenPom 37), Iowa (71), and Nebraska (93). They lost to Penn State (81). Northwestern’s high ranking is surprising, although Illinois did catch the Wildcats first without their best player and then with Scottie Lindsey obviously less than 100%. Otherwise, those teams aren’t exactly juggernauts.

Category Illinois MSU Neb Iowa PSU NW
Scoring O 72.8 (8) 72.4 (10) 70.4 (13) 80.6 (2) 72 (11) 71.8 (12)
Scoring D 70 (10) 69.2 (9) 71.7 (11) 77.7 (11) 72.2 (12) 64.7 (2)
FG % 45.2 (7) 47.5 (3) 42.1 (12) 44.8 (8) 41.6 (13) 42.7 (11)
FG% D 43.3 (11) 40.8 (4) 43.8 (12) 43.9 (13) 43 (10) 39.5 (1)
3pt % 36.8 (5) 38.2 (3) 32.6 (13) 36.3 (7) 34.1 (11) 34 (12)
3pt % D 33.9 (7) 34.7 (8) 39.5 (14) 35.4 (11) 35.4 (10) 32.8 (4)
Reb Marg +2.4 (7) +3 (5) +2.3 (8) -.5 (12) -3.3 (14) +.4 (11)
TO Marg -.1 (8) -3.1 (13) +.4 (7) +.9 (6) +2 (3) +1.9 (4)

Conference rank in (); Stats from

Looking at the current conference stats, Illinois appears to be a middle-of-the-pack Big10 team. Nebraska ranks near the bottom in all categories, and Illinois should have beaten them by double digits. Iowa, too, struggles to defend or rebound, although they score at a decent clip. Penn State is bottom third in all but turnover margin; Illinois has to regret dropping two games to the Nittany Lions, who are currently sitting in 13th place. Northwestern is a very one-sided team. They’re at the top of the conference defensively but lurking around the bottom on offense. Illinois beat the Wildcats by scoring 68 and 66 points, not too far above what Northwestern gives up on average. They held Chris Collins’s team to just 61 and 50 points; in this case, the Illini defense was able to take advantage of an offensively challenged Northwestern squad. It appears Illinois has been beating very flawed teams, but you can only play the games that are on your schedule.

Tonight’s Michigan State game will be a litmus test. The Spartans and their crew of talented freshman have been on the rise of late, and they are ahead of or near the Illini in most statistical categories. They have struggled with turnovers, rating 13th in the conference, but word is they’ve improved on that recently. The Illini should welcome the challenge, at home, on Senior Night, to beat a Tom Izzo club that appears to be peaking in March (as the Spartans always seem to do). Right now, Michigan State looks like a tournament team, although they’re not a lock just yet. Illinois needs to beat the Spartans to show they belong in the field of 68. Tournament hopes are still slim, but they’re not quite dead. Win tonight and at Rutgers, then pull off at least one victory in the B1G Tourney and there’s a chance. They say seniors die hard; here’s hoping Malcolm Hill and the guys prove that adage true over the next couple of weeks!

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