When you are Illinois and led by new Coach John Groce there are a lot of things you look forward to. But when you are 15-6 (2-5) and squarely on the NCC Tournament bubble, coming into the Breslin Center probably isn’t one of them. Add to that the Spartans are a wounded cat coming off of a five point loss in Bloomington that makes the task even more daunting.
Tom Izzo talked about the enormity of this game against Illinois and how his team will respond from the Hoosier loss. “We are in for a dangerous week because it is the first time we’ve lost in a while and how we handle that.”
There is more to this game than MSU having lost just five days previous. The Illini can be dangerous albeit usually against a team not wearing the B1G logo.
Izzo talked about the Illini, “I think Illinois is about as dangerous as a team you can play. For 12 games they shot in the high 40’s from the three. And for seven games in the Big Ten they are averaging twenty something from the three. It would be different if they just did it for a couple games in the non-conference but they did it almost the entire non-conference where they made three after three after three. Who knows why it dropped that thing has dropped so much. They have proven over a period of time that they are capable three point shooters. They play a lot of four guard lineups. A lot of guys that can handle the ball, penetrate and make shots and they’ve struggled to make some. I think 37% is their overall right now, but 22% in the league. That is a monstrous difference and something that if threes are falling then it is a problem.”
Izzo has spent a lot of time this week preparing and pouring over film for tonight’s 7PM (ESPN) contest. He said of the Illini, “I think everybody does what they do against us. Everybody scouts. I made this comment that I think our league is as good as coaches as any league in the country and as any league as I’ve been part of. So I think more people take things away now. And you are going to take away their strengths. That is the one advantage I think we have. We do have a post-game. Sometimes we miss some shots, but when the ball goes in there, the number of touches Nix gets and the number of good things that happen, especially if he is not trying to overdo it, not turning it over, it’s hard to guard both. You try to take away the three, you are going to give up some. They will do it in the Super Bowl. They will defend the run or the pass or the option. That’s what you do. You go with the numbers, as they say on the news show and you try to evaluate that and set up a gameplan that goes according to the numbers.”
For Izzo it will also mean facing for the first time in a long time an Illinois squad that doesn’t have his good friend Bruce Weber on the bench. The Illini canned him last year. Izzo said, “Bruce is still a real good friend. I think things worked out just fine for him. He’s got a real good team at Kansas State and John has done a good job there, I think (at Illinois, I presume). So maybe things always work out but Bruce was one of my closer friends in the league – maybe my closest, because we were in it almost 25 years’ worth. From GA’s with the common bond of Jud and Gene and a appreciation of what we both went through. And then the fact that we had some good battles with Illinois over those years. It’s worked out good, I’m happy for him where he’s at.”
For the Illini this may not be good news. Michigan State has won 29 of the last 30 in the Breslin. The Illini lead the Big Ten having taken 517 field goal attempts. If the Illini can get hot anything can happen. MSU must extend their defense tonight.