By Jeff Ghiringhelli, feat. the two Pauls
Photo’s courtesy of Illinois Loyalty.com (be sure to check out that awesome website!)
There always seems to be an added excitement around campus when College Gameday comes to town. Even those that do not follow sports very closely know that there must be a big game. Tonight’s clash pitting Michigan State against Illinois is no exception.
All of a sudden, it appears as though a Big Ten title being delivered to East Lansing is no longer a foregone conclusion. An 18-point loss at Wisconsin was bad enough, but to make matters worse Spartan team leader and point guard Kalin Lucas went down in the second half with a sprained ankle.
His status for tomorrow’s game remains unknown, though he has been held out of practice all week. Lucas is a very tough competitor, and if there is even a slight chance that he can play, expect him to be out there. However, a sprained ankle is tough to recover from in less than a week, so if he is out there he won’t be anywhere near 100%. Sophomore backup Korie Lucious will more than likely be expected to shoulder the load at the point.
Lucious is a very capable replacement, and he averages over 20 minutes per game. He has great vision, averaging four assists per game. Though he may be mistake prone, that is not at all uncommon for a sophomore backup. He has a great shot, and can be deadly from beyond the arc.
This is the second meeting between the teams, with the first contest going Michigan State ’s way at home 73-63. Lucas scored a game-high 20 points in leading the Spartans. MSU is in the midst of a very tough stretch, and a loss tomorrow would bring the Illini to within one game of the conference lead.
Illinois has won three in a row, but all against the bottom three teams in the conference. The highlight of that stretch was a 72-70 win over Indiana in which Demetri McCamey hit the game-winner as time expired.
Whether or not Lucas plays, the Spartans are still going to try to get out in transition, so it is vital that the Illini slow them down. Lucious, like Lucas, has a lot of speed at the point and is capable of running a good fast break.
To slow MSU down, Illinois must crash the offensive glass to try to prevent run outs. This is no easy task, as the Spartans are ranked in the top five nationally in rebounding margin. Mike Tisdale also needs to be more a factor than in the first meeting. In East Lansing, he got into early foul trouble and finished with only two points and one shot attempt. He must establish himself inside and be more of a presence tomorrow night.
The Sports Bank Staff Predictions
Jeff, TSB Michigan State Expert:
Illinois is always tough to beat at home, and it is gut-check time for Tom Izzo’s Spartans. Look for a very tight game that could come down to the final few possessions. Watch for the Spartans to control the glass once again, and for Lucious to surprise people with his ability to step up and lead the offense. Michigan State gets back on track with a close 68-64 win in Champaign .
Paul S., TSB Illinois Expert:
WITH LUCAS: Illinois wins, 78-63. I just don’t think that Lucas can be effective with that sprain — I’ve done it, and it hurts like a…well, you get the idea…for a week afterwards. After that, you can really start to function normally. Now, if Lucas plays, he’s going to try to do too much to prove he’s ok, and that’s going to affect the way the whole team plays. Also, Illinois is going to be keyed up for Gameday in Champaign, and the crowd should be one of the best Assembly Hall has seen since…the original Paint the Hall Orange against Michigan State in 2001.
WITHOUT LUCAS: Illinois wins, 78-72. How could the score be closer, you might ask? Look, Izzo and the Spartans are just better off admitting that Lucas is hurt, and hurt badly enough that it will affect his performance greatly, and that it would benefit the team to NOT have him on the court in this case. The Illini should still win, and they should still be carried by the emotion of Gameday enough to get them there. The fact is the Illini are tough at home, very tough. And it really doesn’t matter who is there…hopefully, the new starting lineup will be able to handle the huge amount of emotion that comes with playing a game on the big national stage such as this.
Paul B., TSB CEO and Big 10 Expert:
Back in ’01 when Illinois hosted Michigan State, the game was an epic win for the Illini. And my prediction for that game was amazingly off by one total point. I doubt I can duplicate that feat here. As this Illini team is more erratic and unstable than Tara Reid, Lindsay Lohan and Amy Winehouse on their worst days combined. They’re also nowhere near as good as that ’01 team that earned a #1 seed. However, this is going to be a night where a lot of stuff just doesn’t make any sense. During the first few minutes of College Gameday, they revealed Joe Lunardi’s bracket which had Illinois in as the last team at #65. C’mon! Reality check: Illinois is easily the 70th or 75th team in terms of “bracketology”. So obviously, this was blatant pandering to the crowd with a delusional perception of the Illini.
The game will go the same way. MSU has beaten Illinois 5 straight, 8 of 9. But tonight Kalin Lucas will not play, or play very sparingly. And that will be enough to rattle State, and let the Illini dictate tempo on their way to emerging triumphant. Illinois wins 65-63