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Illinois vs. Michigan State: showdown of struggling shooters

No. 17 Michigan State (12-5, 4-1 Big Ten) at No. 23 Illinois (13-5, 3-2 Big Ten)

6 p.m. – ESPN

Looking back
When Michigan State comes to Champaign, it’s kind of a big deal. How do you know? The ESPN cameras follow. The Worldwide Leader will broadcast the Illini-Spartans matchup from the Assembly Hall for the second consecutive season and for the fifth time in six seasons (CBS televised the game in 2009). The Illini have won three of their last five against Michigan State at home, including an upset the No. 5 Spartans last February with a 78-73 win with the ESPN College GameDay crew at the Hall.

“Honestly, I remember it was one of the coolest moments of my college career so far, the crowd storming the court and being part of that, College Gameday and the students amped up,” Illinois sophomore forward Tyler Griffey said. “I’m sure they’re going to be amped up again.”

With classes at the U of I resuming for the winter semester today, expect the students to give the Illini a boost.

“It does feel good to get back home, get on your home court here, get the fans back, the students back, everbody’s back,” Illinois senior Mike Davis said.
“There’s a lot of excitement around the town. I went to the store (Monday) and a lot of people were  talking to me saying, ‘Come to the game tomorrow, be ready, get some rebounds, get back to playing well because we need you.’ I think everybody’s excited.”

Richmond back with team

Speculation swirled about Jereme Richmond sitting out Illinois’ game at Wisconsin on Saturday. Citing “rumors,” Big Ten Network analyst Jim Jackson tweeted that the Illini freshman would transfer, only to renege his post and apologize for the tweet hours later. But the rumors spread on Internet message boards, prompting Richmond – who practiced on Monday but did not talk to the media – to issue a statement through the University.

“I dealt with some personal issues last week that caused me to miss two practices while I was home with my family in Waukegan,” Richmond said. “With the help of Coach Weber and my family, I have worked through this situation. I appreciate their support and the support of my teammates for getting me through a difficult time. Unfortunately, my absence led to some false rumors that I want to put to rest. I have been and always will be 100 percent committed to the Illinois basketball program. My coaches and teammates are my family, and I’m looking forward to helping our team achieve our goals. I am an Illini for life.”

Richmond did not travel with the team to Wisconsin but arrived in Madison with his parents. Hew was dressed for the game but did not play.

“Hopefully he’ll be a valuable member of our team down the stretch run,” Illini coach Bruce Weber said. “We can use him, there’s no doubt.”

The situation comes at a bad time for Illinois. The Illini could’ve used Richmond’s rebounding and versatility against Wisconsin, and Davis’ current struggles could’ve opened the door for more playing time for the freshman.

“To me, the sad part is that I thought he was really starting to figure it out, starting to play well, feel comfortable and starting to help our team,” Weber said. “Now, a little bit of a setback for himself, but hopefully we can get him back here and he can definitely add a lot to our team. He gives us a lot of versatility, especially when you talk about Michigan State playing small-ball. He can guard a lot of people.”

Matchup to watch: Mike Davis vs. Draymond Green 

Davis continues his mood swings. After four straight double-digit scoring nights and a 14-rebound performance in a home win against Wisconsin, Davis has 14 points and five rebounds over the past two games. Say it again, five rebounds in 63 minutes for a guy who led the Big Ten in rebounding as a junior and finished second in rebounding as a sophomore. He currently ranks 10th in the Big Ten with 6.4 rebounds per game.

“I just got to be active and be everywhere,” Davis said. “When I’m active and everywhere, I’m a good player. When I’m talking around, not screening, getting down on myself or doing things not active that’s when I’m not good.”

Davis also has hurt the Illini with his defensive effort, or lack thereof. Jon Leuer posted 26 points on 9 of 16 shooting with Davis shadowing the NBA prospect most of the game. Davis’ task won’t get any easier with the assignment on 6-foot-6, 250-pound Michigan State power forward Draymond Green tonight.

Green is heating up after a slow start. He earned Big Ten Player of the Week honors after averaged 21.0 points and 8.5 rebounds in a pair of overtime wins over Wisconsin and Northwestern last week. Known for disliking contact, Davis will have to toughen up to slow down the bulldozing Green.

“I got to do a better job,” Davis said, “because if Draymond goes for 26, we’re going to lose.”

Ball in the bucket

We media can analyze and overanalyze all the intangible faults of this Illinois team. But a simple box score highlights Illinois’ downfall in back-to-back Big Ten losses. Illinois made 35 of 99 field goals (35.4 percent) last week. That shooting performance won’t equate to many wins for a team that plays mediocre defense and is 291st in the country in free throw attempts.  A percentage or two better and Illinois probably beats Penn State and would’ve had a chance to pull off a tough road win at Wisconsin.

But the same Illini offense that shot 64.7 percent through its first three Big Ten games is getting stagnant. Bill Cole is cooling (though still 5 of 10  from the field in last week’s losses), D.J. Richardson has hit the same slump he suffered last year at this time (0 for 8 last week) and Demetri McCamey (6-for-21 last week) has received little help from his teammates during a short slump.

“I think our offense is a little bit stagnant,” Davis said. “I think we just watch Demetri too much. I think we stand around and wait for him to make a play, wait for him to make a cut and get someone else open. I think we have to move. We have to help him out. …I think too much load is on him now.”

Added McCamey: “We just got to get more in the floor, more spaced and more crisp in our offense.”

Prediction

Illinois 73, Michigan 69

Luckily for Illinois, Michigan State isn’t exactly shooting the lights out either. The Spartans are 31.3 percent from three over their last six games. But Tom Izzo’s squad still takes care of the ball and is plus-5.0 in rebounding advantage in Big Ten play. Still, Illinois has a length advantage and has shot 52.8 percent from the field, including 44.4 percent from three, in a 9-0 start at the Assembly Hall this season. This Illini team can lose to anybody, but it can also beat anybody – especially at home. Here’s guessing the Illini get up for another big game and find an offensive rhythm.

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Categories: Illinois basketball
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