Illinois lost their 4th consecutive game, a 78-62 defeat at the hands of the No. 4 Michigan State Spartans. The Spartans (17-1, 5-0) are off to the best start in school history, while the Illini (13-6, 2-4) are reeling and have a daunting schedule ahead.
Tracy Abrams scored 15 points to lead Illinois, while Jon Ekey added 12 and Ray Rice 11 for Illinois. Gary Harris scored 23 points on just 9 shots to lead the Spartans, while Denzel Valentine and Keith Appling had 15 each. The Spartans played without star Center Adrien Payne, who sat out his second consecutive game.
Here's a look back at the game.
Too much talent
They used to have a show on television called Pros vs. Joes, and the game on Saturday night was eerily reminiscent. Michigan State has players like Appling and Harris that will likely be in the NBA next season, while Illinois has a great group of kids that try hard. That's an oversimplification, but Illinois probably has one player, either Rice or Abrams, that could start if they combined the teams. It's difficult to overcome that no matter how good a coach is at game planning.
In Iowa girls basketball they used to have a setup where they would play 3 on 3 half court, and players would ether play offense or defense. With the offensive emergence of Malcom Hill and Maverick Morgan, that might need to be an option for the Illini. Seriously, the Illini are beginning to get more production from the frosh, but they are also struggling with execution, on the defensive end in particular.
Malcolm Hill scored 8 points and grabbed 3 rebounds in 13 minutes. He was very active and is a mismatch on the offensive end of the floor. Mav Morgan had 4 points and 3 rebounds. Yet, they may give up as much as they get right now. Defensive lapses, slow rotations and just checking out mentally lead to other players in bad positions.
So, it's a quandary. Do you play the young players who are giving you more on offense or play the veterans? Ideally, they grow like Kendrick Nunn has grown and you see a player that has made strides on both ends of the floor.
Donut in the middle
Once again, Junior Center Nnanna Egwu was scoreless, missing all 3 shot attempts and the front end of a 1 and 1. He also grabbed 2 rebounds and had a turnovers to go with 4 fouls in 22 minutes. Although Mav Morgan was solid for a Frosh big man, he is still a liability on defense, and he isn't a great rebounder either.
It's hard to win games playing 4 on 5 on either end.
* The inconsistency in officiating from game to game continued in this one. Both Tom Izzo and John Groce talked about in the post game press conference, discussing the issues with consistency from game to game. Players, coaches and officials are confused about how to call a game, and even within a crew it varies. In the Kentucky-Arkansas game the other night, breathing on a player was a foul, while the Michigan State and Purdue games were very physical. It will be interesting to see how it is called during the NCAA tourney.
* Illinois scored 62 points on 66 possessions, which is another game under 1 PPP(0.94). However, The real issue was on the defensive end, as MSU scored 78 (1.18PPP), including points on their final 9 possessions. You can't make runs without getting stops, and Illinois didn't get enough of them. Michigan State shot 56% overall and 40% from 3 point range, while grabbing 36% of their misses. If not for the early turnovers, Illinois would not have slowed them down.
* In Big Ten play, Illinois is now shooting 36% from the field, 26% from 3 point range and have a 47 assist to 53 turnover ratio. All while getting out rebounded 227-216. The worst part is that they have played 4 of their first 6 at home, and 4 of them are against the projected bottom half of the league.
* Although he says he is nearly 100%, Rayvonte Rice is still hurting. Where you see it the most is on the defensive end. It's hard to move laterally with a groin strain, and Rice allowed a couple of baseline blow-bys that don't happen when he is healthy.
* The biggest question is can this team rebound? The schedule is brutal, but with the upsets we have seen of late, you feel like they can possibly pull off a win and get some confidence and go on a run to at least make the NIT. With 4 conference losses already, and 2 at home, the NCAA's are probably not going to happen, but getting playing time and experience in a one and done tournament setting would be great experience.