Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Michigan State Spartans Picks

by | Last updated Feb 19, 2022 | cbb

Illinois Fighting Illini (18-7 SU, 11-14 ATS) vs. Michigan State Spartans (18-7, 13-11-1 ATS)
When: Saturday, February 19, Noon
Where: Breslin Center, East Lansing, Mich.
Point Spread: ILL +1.5/MIST -1.5 (BetNow)
Moneyline: ILL -105/MIST -115
Total: 139.5

Last Time Out:

Illinois lost 70-59 to Rutgers; Michigan State lost 62-58 to Penn State

About the Matchup:

Is it time to worry for these teams, or have they simply hit a small blip on their path to getting into March, where the games really matter? Illinois has dropped its past two away from Champaign, running into an angry Purdue squad and a hot Rutgers team that’s playing for its tournament lives. On the surface, that’s really not much of anything to worry about.

But when it becomes three out of four, that’s when questions arise, and that’s where Michigan State is at the moment. The Spartans look like they might really have some things to worry about, given that they barely escaped from Maryland, lost to Wisconsin at home and fell on trips to Rutgers and Penn State. The two road games are the real alarm bells, because the Spartans blew a double-digit lead in falling to the Nittany Lions and were never competitive in a 21-point loss to the Scarlet Knights. Both teams are likely safely in the field, but both have a longer race to run than the regular season. With just six games left in the regular season, these teams need to get some momentum going.

Scouting the Fighting Illini:

The good news for Illinois: Kofi Cockburn played outstanding against Rutgers, scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. The bad news was just about everything else, as the Fighting Illini were poor at the free throw line, didn’t hit from the outside and really didn’t hit much of anything outside of Cockburn’s scoring. Take away Cockburn’s baskets, and the rest of the Fighting Illini were 14-for-44, just under 32% from the floor.

Having Cockburn on the floor is essentially a cheat code for the Illini inside, but it only works if Trent Frazier or Alfonso Plummer (or both) is also providing points. When Cockburn is all alone in getting the job done, teams will just find a way around him by attacking the perimeter and the mid-range areas. Plummer’s shooting was poor against Rutgers, and that’s got to change if the Illini are going to get the job done against good teams.

Scouting the Spartans:

What Michigan State didn’t do against Penn State was obvious: the Spartans didn’t get out and run. Michigan State is at its best when it’s able to get baskets in transition, and the Spartans didn’t come close to doing that in the second half against Penn State, as they failed to adjust to the Nittany Lions’ defense and gradually watched their lead slip away. Given that Illinois doesn’t turn the ball over a lot, the Spartans need a new strategy to run, and it needs to be better than what happened in Champaign.

In that game, Michigan State more than did its job on the glass, as they took full advantage of Cockburn’s absence to grab 38 boards and control the paint. But Illinois won the game anyway because its guards were on that night and Michigan State’s were not. The Spartans just haven’t been able to get everyone on the same page this season, as it seems like almost every game sees at least one of their main weapons running into problems. The one thing the Spartans can do to fix that is play better defense than they did against Rutgers, as the Spartans allowed the Scarlet Knights to shoot 62% from the floor. If Illinois comes anywhere close, Michigan State is in trouble.

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Illinois will Cover If: Cockburn makes up for lost time. He didn’t play in the first game against the Spartans, and Illinois didn’t do much on the glass as a result. The Fighting Illini need to get a big game out of him to take control in this one.

Michigan State will Cover If: The Spartans put up some solid numbers on the perimeter. Michigan State has to get quality guard play in order to have much of a chance in this game, because it is not likely to control the paint the way that it did last time.

Dan’s Best Prop Bets

With the Spartans struggling to put up points as of late, taking Michigan State to go under 70 points makes a lot of sense. The Spartans just aren’t putting up good numbers at this point, and Illinois should be tougher to score on in this one.

Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread

Michigan State looks like it’s drifting toward another disappointing end to the season. The Spartans really haven’t looked great against anyone but Michigan and Indiana, and the former was a rival and the latter hasn’t played well on the road against anyone all season. Illinois should be able to get back on track here; I’ll take the Illini to win the game outright.