Showdown in Champaign: Battle in the Top Ten

It's finally time to set aside the non-conference schedules and open up Big Ten Conference play as Spartans look to hand Illini first loss of the season.

EAST LANSING - It's finally time to set aside the non-conference schedules and open up Big Ten Conference play.

#7 Michigan State (12-2) visits #6 Illinois (14-0) on Thursday at Assembly Hall, where the Illini have won 29 consecutive games, the second-longest home winning streak in the nation (Gonzaga, 30 wins).

Both teams were in the Final Four last season in St. Louis and both are currently riding win streaks of double-digits. Michigan State has run off 10 consecutive wins after starting 2-2 and Illinois has won its first 14 games to open the season.

Michigan State is 3-1 this season facing top-ten teams while Illinois has yet to play a ranked team.

Illinois leads the all-time series 50-47 over Michigan State including a 32-15 advantage in Champaign. Illinois carries a three-game winning streak over MSU, defeating the Spartans in both meetings last season.

The Fighting Illini are led by seniors Dee Brown and James Augustine, who together carry the offense, averaging 14 points per game.

Brown returned to the Illini after withdrawing from the NBA draft last spring due to a broken leg.

The Illini pose a dangerous threat from 3-point range with the trio of junior Rich McBride, freshman Jamar Smith, and Dee Brown. The three love to shoot from long-range and as a team the Illini sport a .390 3-point shooting percentage.

Coach Bruce Weber's Illinois defense has given up an amazing 55.6 points per game while scoring 75.5 a game.

The Spartans feature a scoring trio of their own, possibly a more potent and complete trio of Maurice Ager, Paul Davis, and Shannon Brown. Ager leads the team in scoring with 22 points per game with Brown adding 17 a game. Davis is the Spartans' workhorse, averaging a double-double through 14 games (19 points and 10 rebounds per game).

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has stressed his team's poor defense during games this season in which they are giving up 72 points a game to their opponent. While the defense may be an occasional problem, the offense is high-powered, putting up 82 points per game.

This game will come down to Michigan State's defense and their ability to defend long-range shots as well as points in the paint by 6-foot-10 James Augustine. The scoring will always come for the Spartans but it is a question of if they can contest the Illini's shooters into forcing up bad shots.

Assembly Hall will be roaring at tip-off of this matchup of top ten teams. Both are strong teams and both will definitely make strong pushes for a trip to Indianapolis for another Final Four come March Madness.

One team will have started out their Big Ten schedule on a big note and you can be sure that it will be a physical and tense contest as every conference game proves to be important, which results in some intense contests.

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