Sunday, January 21, 2018

No. 6 Michigan State looks to stay on track as Illinois looms

Photo Credit: Michigan State Athletics

Fresh off a three-game stretch, which included losses to the Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan Wolverines, the No. 6 Michigan State Spartans appear to be back on track after an 85-57 win over the Indiana Hoosiers on Jan. 19. The grind of the Big Ten schedule keeps the Spartans on alert as they travel to Champaign, Ill., to face the Illinois Fighting Illini on Jan. 22.

Miles Bridges looked in prime form once more after a 22-point performance against Indiana and could be a matchup nightmare for any Illinois player who draws the primary assignment.

The Spartans also excel in their frontline as Nick Ward has been the consistent force with six double-doubles this season and comes into the Illini game third in the country in field goal percentage.

Cassius Winston has been the straw that has stirred the drink for MSU’s offense as he has at least seven assists in 12 games this season and finished with eight against Indiana.

Despite a 0-7 start in league play, the Illinois Fighting Illini have held a lead in six of those losses, but not good enough for coach Brad Underwood’s standards. On the other hand, Underwood has been through similar circumstances last season as the Oklahoma State Cowboys started 0-6 in the Big 12, before rattling off 9 of the last 12 wins to make the NCAA Tournament.

Not saying history will repeat itself once more, but the Illini are a team dominated by underclassmen led by freshman phenom Trent Frazier, who is second on the team with 11.0 PPG and has provided instant offense this season, highlighted by a career-high 27 points against Iowa on Jan. 11.

Most assume the Spartans have little to play for, but not so fast my friend.

In the second to last regular season game on March 1, 2017, Illinois outlasted Michigan State, 73-70 as Lourawls Nairn missed what would have been a game-tying three at the buzzer.

The Spartans have a chance to exercise one of their demons from last season as the quest to the month of March inches through.

No. 6 Michigan State at Illinois

Tip Time: Monday, 8 p.m.

TV/Online: FS1/FOX Sports GO

Commentators: Tim Brando and Bill Raftery