No. 9 Michigan State tries to halt skid at Illinois
It's not exactly two teams heading in different directions, but when Illinois hosts No. 9 Michigan State on Tuesday night, it will be a meeting of a pair of programs feeling a bit differently about how things have played out the past couple of weeks.
The Spartans (18-4, 9-2 Big Ten) remain tied atop the league standings with Michigan and Purdue, but they're in that spot -- instead of first place all alone -- because they've lost two straight, on the road at Purdue and then Saturday at home against Indiana in overtime.
It was the Indiana loss that truly had Michigan State reeling, considering the Hoosiers entered the game losers of eight straight and the worst 3-point shooting team in the conference. They ended their skid by hitting 50 percent of their triples and grabbing 14 offensive rebounds.
It had Spartans coach Tom Izzo shaking his head a couple of days after the first home loss of the season.
"A couple of areas we have to get better at is definitely rebounding the ball and that's an effort-related thing," Izzo said. "And we've worn down a little bit on the perimeter and that has hurt us. Hopefully we'll regroup. I don't look at it as a complete overhaul, I just felt like (the loss to Indiana) was a game they played awfully well and we didn't play well enough to win.
"The reality of it is you're gonna go through some ups and downs and we went through a down game this weekend and hopefully we'll get back up and on track."
Michigan State will have to do so against an Illinois team that is mired near the bottom of the conference standings but is starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel for second-year coach Brad Underwood.
The Fighting Illini (7-15, 3-8) have won two of their last three games, including a win over then-No. 13 Maryland at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 26.
And as tough as taking down a top-10 team will be, the Illini aren't backing down.
"I think we can beat anybody," guard Trent Frazier told reporters after practice Monday. "We've just got to come out and execute for 40 minutes. I don't think we're worried if they have a number by their team, a ranking. Every team we come out and play we play the same way. We play every team hard."
Illinois will attempt to swarm the Spartans defensively. The Illini lead the Big Ten in turnovers forced while Michigan State is averaging more than 13 turnovers a game.
It's been an Achilles' heel all year for the Spartans, who had two of their worst turnover games early in the season in a five-point loss to then-No. 1 Kansas and an overtime loss at Louisville. It's been cleaned up some in conference play, but after giving the ball away 19 times in a win last week at Iowa, the Spartans know what they'll face against the Illini.
"They are very disruptive defensively and also have done a great job utilizing people," Izzo said. "They have athletes at every position and play eight or nine guys. They play that style of crazy pressure and doing those things. If you turn it over and they score off it, you're in trouble. If you don't turn it over, I think that's how you win games."
--Field Level Media
Updated February 4, 2019