The Spartan Response
Tom Izzo laid out his team's week with one word.
Here's why he's spot on.
THE SPARTAN RESPONSE
On Sunday Michigan State suffered its first loss in nearly a month - 26 days between defeats at Minnesota and Indiana to be exact.
In the Big Ten, each loss is magnified due to the overall strength of the conference. Look, everyone is going to take some losses. It's not unreasonable to believe that the conference champion(s) will have 4 or 5 losses.
That means each loss is magnified. When you lose, each game to follow adds more pressure. Team's like Illinois and Minnesota have already fallen victim to the snow ball effect. One loss turns into two, and before you know it, you're on the outside, looking in, in the conference race.
So how will the Spartans respond? Will they allow their 5 point defeat, in which they had every chance to win, to low down their recent winning ways?
"We don't want to start a losing streak, like Minnesota's on a losing streak, Illinois' got on a losing streak,
said freshman Gary Harris. "This is tough territory right here, because I mean, if we lose this one, that's a two game losing streak. That can get the snow ball effect going. We don't want that to happen."
Last season the Spartans started out hot in Big Ten play, winning their first four games. But then, an upset loss at Northwestern turned into an eventual loss to Michigan and it was hard to stop the bleeding.
"I think last year going into Northewestern, we kind of looked at it as 'Hey, this is a game we're going to win'," Travis Trice remembered. "We overlooked it and then we slipped up and lost two. We can't do that now."
THE DANGEROUS ILLINI
The Illini began the season on a roll. Their 13-1 non-conference record was marked by a Maui Invitational
Championship, complete with blow out wins over USC and Butler.
Later, they went to Gonzaga and handed the Bulldogs their first, of only two losses on the season, an 11 point victory (Gonzaga's other loss is to Butler).
Brandon Paul was phenomenal in the preseason as well, averaging 18.7 points per game, while connecting on 3.4 3-point baskets per outing. Paul racked up six, 20-plus point performances, including a 35-point effort at Gonzaga.
Since conference play began however, Paul's production has dropped significantly. While he's still averaging an outstanding 16.1 point per contest, his three point production has nearly dropped in half, to 1.9 makes per game.
But just like Paul, the Illini live and die from long range. Against the stout defenses of the Big Ten, that does not typically bode well. So let's take a look at what's transpired.
Here are the facts: Illinois leads the Big Ten in 3-point makes with 171. Problem is, they rank 8th overall in 3-point percentage at 33.1-percent.
In Big Ten play alone, their 3-point accuracy has dropped off a cliff. They've made just 39, threes (9th), despite taking the third most attempts (159). This puts them dead last in percentage...at 24.5-percent.
Despite these numbers, the opportunties are there, and it's always frightening when a 3-point shooting team gets hot. And Illinois definitely can.
In 14 non-conference games, the Illini made ten or more, 3-point baskets on eight different occasions. All wins. In seven Big Ten games, they've done it one time, against Purdue. Ironically enough, that was a loss.
With a 4 guard rotation, the Illini can get hot at any time, despite that it hasn't happened much of late. But the Spartans cannot rely on that being reality on Thursday night at the Breslin Center.
"If they're hitting their threes and everybody's hot it could be a rough game," Travis Trice admonished following Tuesday's practice. "But if they're not, it could be a cold game for them. So it's a dangerous game. It depends on how they come to play."
It'll be imperative for MSU to lockdown on Illinois' guards early, because if Paul, DJ Richardson and Tracy Abrams gain confidence in the first ten minutes, that's when they become most dangerous.
"We don't want them to get going early," Gary Harris said. "Because if they get going early, they'll start playing with confidence and start knocking down shots they haven't been hitting in recent weeks."