Game Day Thoughts... Michigan State

Get set for Illinois-Michigan State with news, notes and thoughts on Saturday's matchup.

What to watch for… Healthy bodies. Or, in this case, unhealthy ones. Michigan State has dealt with injuries all season. Center Adreian Payne is listed as questionable with a foot injury. He had X-rays Friday and just recently started walking without a boot.

It doesn't sound like he's going to be a go. As recently as Thursday, the only thing he could do was shoot at practice.

Payne is averaging over 16 points and nearly eight rebounds a game. That's serious production and not something that can easily be replaced. After the Illini allowed Purdue's A.J. Hammons to go for 17 and eight earlier this week, I don't think Illini Nation wanted to see what Payne could do.

Star guard Gary Harris has a nagging shoulder issue, but it sounds like he's going to play. He's Michigan State's leading scorer at 17.6 points per game and could very well win the Big Ten Player of the Year Award.

As for Illinois, the training room has been busy, too. Rayvonte Rice (strained adductor) says he's nearing 100 percent and should be able to play more effectively after the past few days of treatment and stretching. He expects to be 100 percent before next week's trip to Ohio State.

And guard Tracy Abrams, who is dealing with what coach Groce has essentially called minor bumps and bruises, should be fine as well. It sounds as if his legs were cramping against Purdue, which could be because he played 37 minutes versus Northwestern and essentially the entire second half against the Boilermakers.

What I want to see… Nnanna Egwu make a basket. And for Jon Ekey to get going early.

I hate it for Nnanna because he's a hard worker and a nice guy. But he's now 5-for-22 on 3s for the year, and he's hit only 16 of his last 55 shots.

That's not going to cut it. And with defenses continuing to collapse on drivers like Rice, Abrams and Joe Bertrand, Egwu will continue to be open for kick outs. That's just the way it's going to be. The looks he's had, for the most part, have been good. Sadly though, he's missed so many that I can actually hear the fans in State Farm Center go into a collective groan when he pulls.

Point blank -- he's got to make those shots. Same goes for Ekey, who proved how valuable he can be by hitting two 3s late against Purdue. He missed his previous three treys in that game though and was only 5-of-24 in previous action.

His first 3 came off a set play out of a timeout. I'd like to see some actions run for Ekey early to try to get him going from the jump.

Illinois can win if… They hang with the Spartans on the backboard and don't turn the ball over. I know I'm mimicking Groce with these thoughts and it's a pretty general idea -- you know, rebound and don't do stupid things with the ball.

But the margin for error is too slim for Illinois. If 10 lost possessions were that costly against Purdue (and they were), then what can a team with the firepower of Michigan State do with added chances? Illinois doesn't want to find out.

Score prediction… I'm taking the Spartans to win, 72-60. I think the Illini will be ready, as they've shown in the past against Oregon and Missouri that they get up for these highly touted match-ups. But games in the Big Ten come down to execution and options. MSU has the edge in both of those categories and will remain unbeaten in the conference.

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