Illini Wonk
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
  Super Tuesday #2
Last Tuesday, the Illini went on the road to Wisconsin and ended their 38-game home winning streak. Next Tuesday, Illinois plays Michigan in Ann Arbor. This Tuesday, it's the Michigan State Spartans in the Breslin Center. If the Illini win all three, the Big Ten championship is theirs. One down; two to go.

The Spartans are coming off a non-conference 92-75 victory over Oakland, a team that Illinois beat back in November by the score of 85-54. Oakland coach Greg Kampe had some praise and a warning for the Illini here: Tom (Izzo) might get mad at me for saying this. I live in Michigan, and I’m a Michigan person. But, Illinois is the best team we’ve ever played in all my years of doing this, including your national champions and Final Four teams. Does that mean Michigan State won’t beat them? No, I’ll bet Michigan State beats them. But, Illinois is the best we’ve ever played. They share the ball better than any team I’ve ever seen.

On SportsCenter last night, ESPN blowhard Digger Phelps agreed with Kampe and said there are three keys to a Spartan victory:
  1. Share the ball and take your time on offense.
  2. Attack Illinois' perimeter and try to get them in foul trouble.
  3. Go to Paul Davis inside to get James Augustine in foul trouble.

So, according to Digger Phelps, two-thirds of MSU's strategy should be to get Illinois in foul trouble? That's not a strategy, that's a prayer. It's made more unlikely by one little fact that the prized ESPN analyst overlooked. As Marlen Garcia of the Chicago Tribune points out here, Roger Powell will be matched up against Davis, not Augustine. That pesky little fact is lost on the associated press as well in their preview.

Lindsey Willhite of the Daily Herald has the Powell/Davis matchup right in his preview along with what the Illini did to prepare for the big game. Willhite also details recent praise from Michigan State coach Tom Izzo had for Deron Williams here.

Other previews can be found in the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Pantagraph, the Peoria Journal-Star, the Daily Illini and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Official Illinois game notes are here. Big Ten Wonk has an excellent preview and an interview with Dave Dye, who covers the Spartans for the Detroit News on his blog. The best answer from Dye, who says Illinois will be in the Final Four, is his best five Big Ten players not in an MSU uniform. After taking Mike Wilkinson, he rounds out his lineup with Dee Brown, Deron Williams, Luther Head, and Roger Powell. his prediction for tonight's game:

I don't think Michigan State would win at Illinois--and I think Illinois can win at Michigan State. But it's hard to imagine the Illini going undefeated. Tonight seems like the logical stumbling block. Still, for MSU to win, I think Ager has to have a huge game and perhaps Chris Hill will need to break out of his shooting slump.

The game has huge implications for the Big Ten race. With Illinois at 7-0 in the conference and Michigan State a close second with a 5-1 record, Illinois can all but put the race out of reach with a win tonight. Since this is their only meeting of the season, a loss puts Michigan State in the driver's seat, since the Illini will have to depend on another team to beat the Spartans in order to win the conference title.

Just like last week, Dick Vitale will be courtside. It's gonna be awesome, baby!

UPDATE: Add John "Brumby" Brumbaugh to the list of pundits predicting a Michigan State win. Also, Seth Davis thinks a loss would be good for the Illini. Andy Katz says here, it's a shame that the two teams only play once this year. The Sports Advisors at pick the Illini. Mick DeCourcy says the game is a Big opportunity for MSU. Brett Dawson also thinks there’s a good chance Illinois is going to lose to Michigan State on Tuesday. According to Rahula Strohl on the Chicago Tribune Sports Blog, Jay Mariotti predicted an Illini loss to the Spartans on Around the Horn.

Again the pundits overlook the "J-Factor". Jack Ingram on Davis. Paul Davis will not beat us...period.
Paul Davis couldn't beat his way out of a bag with a sharp stick... Illinois 72, Michigan State 64.
Great round-up of pre-game punditry. Digger's right as far as he goes -- foul trouble is the key to playing time, and on the road, we may get a few bad breaks. Okay it's tip-off time.
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