ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI (15-6)
at MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS (17-4)
Jack Breslin Center – Lansing, MI
Tip-off: Thursday, 7:00 p.m. ET
Line: Michigan State -8.5, Total: 133
Losers of six of their past nine game, Illini will look for a season-defining win as they travel to East Lansing and take on No. 13 Michigan State Thursday night.
The Illinois offense has struggled immensely lately, scoring just 60.6 PPG on 38% FG in its past five games, going 1-4 (SU and ATS) in this span. Despite these struggles, the Fighting Illini have shown a knack for pulling out big wins, having already taken down then-No. 8 Ohio State and then-No. 10 Gonzaga on the road. Tom Izzo’s Spartans are 6-1 SU (5-2 ATS) in their past seven games and also own a win over the Buckeyes. His crew is the only team in the nation that has taken down Kansas, currently ranked No. 2 in the AP Poll.
Will Michigan State be able to cover the large spread on Thursday night? For the answer, connect to College Basketball Best Bets for all the Expert picks throughout the entire 2012-13 season. The experts were a collective 9-3 ATS (75%) on Wednesday night as StatFox Gary went 2-0 ATS, StatFox Scott was 3-1 ATS and both StatFox Dave and StatFox Brian were 2-1 ATS. Gary now has a stellar 56% ATS (65-52-1) record for the season for college basketball Best Bets, while StatFox Dave is 53% ATS (104-93-3) on the year. StatFox Scott is 17-12 ATS (59%) since Jan. 20, and StatFox Brian has 14 non-losing days in the past 19 days.
These two teams met just once last season, and the Fighting Illini grinded out a 42-41 win at home. SG Brandon Paul was the only Illinois player to provide a significant contribution, scoring 18 points with nine rebounds and five assists. This year again, Paul (17.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 2.9 APG) is the heart and soul of the offense. He’s been the key in their two major upsets this year, scoring 19 against Ohio State and 35 against Gonzaga. But he's made just 5-of-24 FG (1-of-10 threes) in his past two road games. Senior SG D.J. Richardson (11.8 PPG, 4.6 RPG) joins him in the backcourt and is just two games removed from scoring 30 points against Nebraska on 9-of-14 shooting, including 6-of-9 from deep. Overall this season, he’s averaging 2.3 threes per game but makes just 32% of hit long-range tries. Sophomore PG Tracy Abrams (11.3 PPG, 3.2 APG) rounds out the double-digit scorers for this guard-oriented team. He needs to improve his shot though, taking 3.0 threes per game and making just 28.1% of these attempts. Abrams also has a weak ratio of 67 assists and 60 turnovers this season. Six-foot-11 C Nnanna Egwu (6.3 PPG, 4.9 RPG) is the team’s top rebounder, grabbing 10 boards in each of his past two games, but isn’t really a threat on the offensive end, as is the case with most of this frontcourt.
Branden Dawson was the only Spartans player to make it into double figures in last year’s loss in Champaign, scoring 12 points with 13 rebounds (7 offensive) in his 28 minutes of action. The 6-foot-6 swingman is averaging a modest 10.6 PPG and 6.7 RPG this season, but in his past two games, he has 15.0 PPG and 10.5 RPG, making 13-of-24 FG (54%). Six-foot-1 PG Keith Appling (13.5 PPG, 4.1 APG, 3.4 RPG) runs the offense but needs to bounce back after scoring just three points in 19 minutes in Sunday's 75-70 loss at Indiana, in which he fouled out. He needs to be on the floor for this team to win games and turning it over four times and recording zero assists, as he did against the Hoosiers, won’t cut it. And against Illinois last season, Appling shot a dreadful 1-of-11 FG with more turnovers (5) than points (4). Freshman G Gary Harris (12.7 PPG) is also key to this backcourt, hitting 40% threes this season (34-for-85), including 5-of-10 from long range in his 21-point performance against Indiana. Down low, watch out for C Adreian Payne (9.4 PPG, 6.9 RPG) to throw around his 6-foot-10 frame. He's made 61% of his FG tries this season and has 13.6 PPG in his past five games, scoring at least 14 points in four of these contests. Senior C Derrick Nix (9.0 PPG, 6.8 RPG) has just 5.0 PPG in his past two contests, but had six assists, five rebounds and two steals in Sunday's loss to Indiana.