Michigan State vs. Illinois Prediction: Can the Spartans Take Advantage of the Banged-up Illini?

Michigan State vs. Illinois prediction and pick for Tuesday's Big Ten showdown. College basketball handicapper Mike Spector breaks down the top-25 matchup between Michigan State and Illinois.
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Michigan State vs. Illinois Prediction: Can the Spartans Take Advantage of the Banged-up Illini?

First place in the Big Ten is on the line tonight when Michigan State travels to Champaign to face Illinois. The Spartans enter tonight with a half-game lead on both Wisconsin and the Fighting Illini, so the winner of tonight’s game will have sole possession of first place in the conference with the Badgers idle.

This Michigan State-Illinois battle is one of two ranked vs. ranked matchups on tonight’s slate. So which team will find itself atop the conference standings after tonight’s heavyweight battle?

Here are our picks and predictions for the Big Ten matchup between Michigan State and Illinois.

Click here for Michigan State vs. Illinois odds

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Michigan State vs. Illinois Betting Odds Movement

Michigan State vs. Illinois Prediction

All analysis of this game starts with the $1,000,000 question of whether Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn will be available for this game? As of this writing, Cockburn is still in the concussion protocol after getting hit in practice, which forced him to miss the team’s last game against Maryland. It is no secret that Illinois is a different team without Cockburn, as their two-game losing streak is centered mainly around his lack of availability. Cockburn played just 22 minutes in the team’s double-overtime loss to Purdue before fouling out in the first overtime period, and the Illini were non-competitive in their 18-point loss to Maryland without their big man available.

Head coach Brad Underwood hinted that significant changes would have to be made if Cockburn’s absence is longer than expected. Underwood said, “You know we might have to make a tweak depending on how long Kofi’s out and what that status looks like. You set a defense for a certain way and no offense to Ben (Bosmans-Verdonk) and Omar (Payne) but they’re not him."

With Cockburn’s status up in the air, grabbing Michigan State now at +5 is an automatic play. However, there is reason to like the Spartans as underdogs even if Cockburn is available.

Michigan State’s length on the perimeter is almost impossible to prepare for. Max Christie, Gabe Brown, and Malik Hall all stand 6’6” or taller and have the defensive versatility and lateral foot speed to contain dribble penetration and close out on shooters. As a result, the Spartans are the Big Ten’s best defensive team in terms of adjusted defensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage defense. In addition, they are allowing opponents to shoot just 30.1% from 3-point range in league play, and that combined with a 45.7% 2-point percentage allowed each rank in the top two in the conference.

Reports have also surfaced out of Champaign that point guard Andre Curbelo has been dealing with the flu, and Trent Frazier has been working through a back issue. Thus, neither guard has practiced much recently, which would disrupt their rhythm if they are available tonight.

Lastly, Illinois has been burned in many of their losses by a poor transition defense, and not many teams in the country are as aggressive or efficient in fast-break offense as the Spartans

Considering all this, we have already grabbed Michigan State +5, as Illinois may be severely short-handed tonight. However, we would not put anyone off taking a flier on their moneyline odds, given they have all the necessary pieces to beat Illinois straight up when fully healthy.

Michigan State vs. Illinois Pick

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Mike Spector brings unmatched knowledge and insight into the game of football, and more importantly the process of betting on NFL football. Mike is the #2 ranked expert in FantasyPros' NFL betting contest

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