Illinois vs. Michigan State College Basketball Odds, Picks & Predictions (Tuesday, Feb. 23)
Michael Hickey/Getty Images. Pictured: Kofi Cockburn (left) and Da’Monte Williams (right).
- Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans host Brad Underwood and the Illinoi Fighting Illini at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Michigan, on Tuesday night.
- In previous seasons, it was rare for opponents to walk into East Lansing and pick up an easy win on the hardwood, but that has become common this season.
- Shane McNichol breaks down whether or not that will be the case again this game.
Illinois vs. Michigan State Odds
|Michigan State Odds||+7|
|Time | TV||Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET | FS1|
With Michigan’s triumphant victory over Ohio State in Columbus on Sunday, Illinois climbed into solo possession of second place in the Big Ten standings.
This sets up the March 2 meeting of the Illini and Wolverines as a massively important game that could determine the seeding at the top of the Big Ten Conference tournament or a top seed in March Madness.
That would only be the case if the Illini can take care of business in the three games on their slate prior to the trip to Ann Arbor. That begins tonight in the state of Michigan against an uncharacteristically struggling Spartan squad.
Tom Izzo’s team is just 5-9 in conference play and desperate to build some momentum, coming off of a win in Bloomington over Indiana. A win over highly-ranked Illinois could get Sparty back into the bubble conversation, though that will be a tough test against Ayo Dosunmu and the Illini.
Illinois’ Star Players vs. Foul-Happy Spartan Defense
Michigan State’s biggest problem defensively has been its penchant for fouling. The Spartans have allowed the highest free-throw rate in Big Ten play and allow the highest percentage of points from the foul line in the conference. Against this Illinois team, that is a dangerous issue.
Dosunmu is one of the best off-the-dribble penetrators in the country and will challenge whichever defender Tom Izzo assigns to keep him out of the paint.
Even more importantly, the Spartans are ill-equipped to grapple with Kofi Cockburn in the lane.
The 7-foot sophomore is a tough guard for any team, but Michigan State is particularly size-deficient in the frontcourt.
The Spartans don’t have any player receiving more than 11 minutes per game who measures within three inches or 60 pounds of Cockburn. Other teams have responded to Cockburn’s size and motor with fouls. He ranks in the top 25 in the nation in fouls drawn per 40 minutes.
Michigan State’s Turnover Issues
Izzo’s teams are always unselfish on the offensive end of the floor.
Michigan State has led the nation in assist rate in four of the past five seasons and does so again this year.
Those assists are often the result of turning down good shots in search of great shots. That mindset has led to turnovers, with the stubbornness required to find assisted buckets often leading to mistakes.
Michigan State has ranked in the bottom three of the Big Ten in turnover rate every season dating back to 2017.
Sparty has been the most turnover-prone team in the conference this year, coughing the ball up on a Big Ten leading 19.2% of possessions.
Illinois has not excelled at forcing turnovers, a surprise for a Brad Underwood-coached team.
A disciple of Bob Huggins, Underwood made a name for himself leading high-pressure defensive teams at Stephen F. Austin. In his eight years as a head coach, six of Underwood’s teams have ranked in the top 55 of forced turnover rate. The only two teams he’s coached not reaching that mark are the 2019-20 and 2020-21 Illini.
Some of this year’s numbers look due to regress in a positive direction. In Illinois’ first 10 games, it forcing 10.6 turnovers per game. In the Illini’s most recent 11 games, that number has climbed to 12.3 turnovers per game.
Illinois still has three games against teams ranking in the bottom four of turnover rate in the Big Ten (Michigan State, Nebraska, and, surprisingly, Michigan).
Given the nature of these two coaches, there’s a good chance the Illini find a way to force Sparty into turnovers.
Michigan State’s Defense is Due for Shooting Regression
Despite struggling throughout conference play, the Spartans have actually been relatively lucky.
Michigan State has faced the worst shooting from outside the 3-point arc to date in Big Ten play, with opponents making only 30.7% of attempts.
That has been especially evident of late, with Sparty’s last two opponents (Purdue and Indiana) combining to hit just 7-of-31 (22%) from outside the arc in their own home gyms.
Enter an Illini team that could make an argument as a top-five shooting team in college basketball.
Five players in the Illinois rotation take more than 1.4 attempts from beyond the arc per game and make better than the national average percentage. I
llinois’ four best shooters — Dosunmu, Trent Frazier, Adam Miller, and Da’Monte Williams — combine to attempt 15.8 attempts from beyond the 3-point line per game, and make 46% of those tries.
Betting Analysis & Pick
Michigan State is having an outlier season across the board.
The Spartans haven’t missed the NCAA Tournament since 1997 and are well outside the bubble entering Tuesday’s matchup.
For bettors, it is very unusual to see a team arriving in East Lansing favored by as many points as Illinois is on Tuesday night. The Spartans have been underdogs just four times in 212 home games since 2010, with equal 2-2 records straight up and against the spread in those four games.
While the sheer thought of a Big Ten opponent waltzing in and out of the Breslin Center with a comfortable victory is a shock, that has become a reality this season. The Illini are better than Michigan State up and down the roster, on both ends of the floor.
Without foul trouble gluing him to the bench, it’s hard to see how Cockburn doesn’t control this game in the paint.
With Dosunmu leading a late charge for Big Ten Player of the Year and Michigan State fading from the bubble, the Illini are in position to win a road game against Sparty for the first time since 2015.
Unless the point spread climbs above 10 points, the Illini are the play.
Pick: Illinois -7 (up to -10).