Jeff Ghiringhelli and Paul Banks discuss #7 Michigan State’s 73-63 victory over Illinois as the Spartans grab first place in the Big Ten all for themselves
Jeff Ghiringhelli: A game that started out alarming (8-2 opening run for the Illini) slowly turned into a game dominated by Michigan State. The Spartans were able to really shut down Illinois on defense, and pull away in the second half. The game was touted as a battle for first place, but if you look at Illinois’ four conference victories versus MSU’s four, it was not entirely surprising to see the Spartans take control of the game and win. Illinois beat the bottom four teams in the conference in Northwestern (though the Wildcats just scored an upset over Purdue), Indiana, Iowa and Penn State. The Spartans also beat Iowa and Northwestern, but also scored wins against Wisconsin and Minnesota. Throw in MSU’s non-conference schedule, and it is easy to see they are more battle-tested. It is clearly difficult to win in East Lansing, but even so how alarming is a loss like this for Illinois given the level of competition they have faced thus far?
Paul M. Banks: We can’t classify NU as a bottom feeder really. They just took down a very good (yet very overrated) Purdue team. The Cats have a murderous January schedule, but a really easy Feb/early March schedule, so we’ll know what they are or what they aren’t only when the full body of work is in. Back to the Illini, I said in my conference power rankings on Thursday that this is the WORST 4-0 conference team in history. After seeing how they struggled against the Penn State Talor Battles (you know like the pre-Shaq Cavaliers, the “Cleveland LeBrons”) at home, I had a feeling this game would get ugly, and it did around the 13 min mark in the second half. It’s a shame because it really was a STATEment game opportunity for the Illini.
Jeff: Things may have gone differently for the Illini had Mike Tisdale gotten himself more involved in the game. The big man came in averaging 13 points and six rebounds per game, but got into foul trouble early and never got into a groove finishing with just two points and one rebound. In recent games he has scored 31 points against Northwestern and 27 against Indiana, so he is a vital part of the Illinois offense. Because he stands over seven feet tall, the Spartans do not really have anyone that can match up with him height-wise. Do you think that the game would have gone differently for Illinois has Tisdale gotten more involved? How much does it impact the rest of the team when Tisdale struggles?
Paul: I would agree with that. In the tourney game last season, Tisdale was to effectiveness and production what Rush Limbaugh is to civil rights and racial tolerance. Tis kind of reminds me of the only other 7-footer in Illini history, Nick Smith, in that all his issues start in his head. Bruce Weber often said last year that Tisdale over-thinks things and it degenerates his game. He really needs to get his confidence up, and keep it up for the Illini to be successful. He is key to opening up shots for the wings. However, Mike Davis is a huge part of the problem as well. Sometimes it looks like he’s genuinely regressing. He’s still hitting the boards, but his scoring…well, 4-15 today? Seriously, if it was a perimeter player putting up numbers like that, I could excuse it. But Davis takes mostly high percentage shots- just AWFUL
Jeff: Coming into today’s game, Illinois’ defense had been playing very well in conference play. They had only been giving up 53 points per game in the last three games. Granted, the competition was not as stiff as Michigan State, but that is still an impressive number. I feel like the Illini defense was really exploited in this contest. The Spartans shot 44% from the field which is not great, but they missed a lot of open jumpers and the percentage could have been a lot higher. MSU’s ball movement was really good, and they controlled the tempo once they got it going in the first half. How much of the problem with Illinois’ defense was caused by the Michigan State offense?
Paul: The Breslin Center is always a tough place to play; and especially so when Izzo’s squad dictates the pace. The Illini felt today exactly like I did with my three most recent ex-girlfriends: I wanted to move at a slower pace, but still found a faster tempo unwillingly thrust upon me. It’s a given that a Tom Izzo team will be superlative on the glass, and that dominance on the boards is the key to them getting out in the open court. And State was +9 rebounding margin today, and it felt even more lopsided than that. Tough for Illinois, or any team to keep up under those circumstances.
Jeff: Given that this was the first real test in conference play for Illinois, this loss has to be a little troubling. The final score shows a ten point Spartan victory, but really the game was not that close. The schedule does not get any easier as Purdue comes in to Champaign on Tuesday night. Looking at the schedule, Illinois has a great road win against Clemson, but other than that nothing jumps out. There are still a handful of potential quality wins remaining on the schedule, including a home game against MSU, two against Purdue and a road test against Wisconsin. The one win against Clemson might not be enough in my opinion for the Illini to be dancing if they do not win at least a couple of those games. In particular, how important would a bounce back win against Purdue on Tuesday be, and how many of the remaining tough games must Illinois win?
Paul: With 5 non-conference losses on the “resume”, it’s going to take 12-6 or better to go dancing. Maybe last year’s conference record 11-7 would do it, but then the pressure will be on to a win a conference tournament game or two in Indy. It will be interesting for Illinois every time they take to the road because as long as D.J. Richardson starts/sees significant time, they will be playing 4 on 5. Like ’90s one-hit wonder OMC “how bizarre” that he forgets how to shoot in any arena other than Assembly Hall. Some 0-8 from the field (0-6 from 3pt) today. Seriously, look at his home/road splits: night and day. The only parallel that comes to mind is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and how the franchise took about 25 years to win a game when the temperature was below 40 degrees. So in other words, my thoughts about Illini road wins in tough places are about as warm as the weather. But hey, Purdue comes to Champaign, and they obviously have issues of their own right now.