Michigan State vs. Illinois Prediction: Can the Spartans Avoid a Regular Season Sweep?

College basketball expert Mike Spector offers his best bet for the Big Ten battle between Illinois and Michigan State at noon on ESPN.
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Michigan State vs. Illinois Prediction: Can the Spartans Avoid a Regular Season Sweep?

Arguably the game of the day in college basketball takes place in East Lansing as the Illinois Fighting Illini and Michigan State Spartans meet in one of four ranked vs. ranked matchups on Saturday's slate. Illinois beat Michigan State at home 56-55 on January 25th, but the victory shocked many as the Illini played without Kofi Cockburn and Andre Curbelo. With Illinois' two stars back in the lineup today, will the Illini once again beat the Spartans? Or will a change of location and the magic of the "Izzone" propel the Spartans to a much-needed home victory?

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

Michigan State vs. Illinois Start Time, Where to Watch, and Odds

Date: Saturday, February 19

Game Time: 12:00 pm ET

Where to Watch: ESPN

Click Here for Michigan State vs. Illinois

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Michigan State vs. Illinois Line Movement

Michigan State vs. Illinois Prediction

Illinois (18-7, 11-4) no longer controls its own destiny for its first regular season Big Ten championship since 2005, after they were Rutgers' latest ranked victim on Wednesday night. The Illini have now lost their last two road games by a combined 27 points, and they have beaten just one team above .500 in conference play (Iowa) on the road this season.

Michigan State (18-7, 9-5) does not come into this matchup in the best form either, as they have lost three of its last four games. The Spartans have been beaten twice at home this season, and in both losses, they were done in by poor offensive play. In Michigan State's two home losses, they have scored just 62 points apiece, shooting a combined 9-for-35 (25.7%) from 3-point range and committing 29 turnovers.

One of the biggest reasons the Illini were non-competitive for much of the second half against Rutgers is that the Scarlet Knights outrebounded Illinois by 18. That shocked many, including head coach Brad Underwood, as his Illini are the best rebounding team in the Big Ten. In a post-game press conference, Underwood said, "I don't know if I've ever had a team in my life that got outrebounded by 20." He followed that up with, "Rutgers has played harder than every single team they've played during the winning streak. It's not rocket science."

One school of thought given these statements is that the Illini will come out hungry in today's road tilt. However, if one team can hang with Illinois on the backboards, it's Izzo's Spartans. Michigan State rebounds 31.8% of its misses (ranks 63rd in the country). If the Fighting Illini does not match Michigan State's intensity, they could be in for a similar fate as what happened in the Rutgers game, consistently being out-hustled for loose balls.

Many will also point out that the Spartans lost their first matchup to Illinois without a healthy Cockburn and Curbelo and assume the Illini will roll in this rematch. However, Izzo's group was put in a difficult position to gameplan for the Illini without knowing what type of lineup or rotation Underwood would use without his star. 

Michigan State held Cockburn to 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting in an 81-72 win in East Lansing last year and held him to five points on 2-of-10 shooting in a 20-point home win the year before that. Thus, the Spartans know how to be physical with the Illini big man and get him off his spots, so his presence alone does not guarantee victory. 

The Spartans are 3-3 ATS against ranked opponents this year but are an eye-popping 7-1 ATS when they have the rest advantage over their opponents. Given that Illinois has the quicker turnaround for this game, and with Michigan State having proven success against Underwood's bunch, we like the Spartans to prevail in this Big Ten battle.

Michigan State Spartans vs. Illinois Fighting Illini 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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