Illini Will Test Confident MSU

"I love playing against Chester Frazier," Spartan guard Travis Walton said. "I really don't know him, but I just know he plays tough. Every time we play, it's a tough match. He's a heck of a leader, so it's going to be a great game."

EAST LANSING — The winter can be depressing.

And in the midst of a basketball season, something that everyone worries about, from the coaches to the fans, is a letdown. That is what this Michigan State team must guard against on Saturday afternoon against the Illinois Fighting Illini at the Breslin Center at 4 p.m. EST.

It's weird to consider that a team may experience a letdown after playing perennial middling Penn State, but that is what the Spartans have to deal with as the top team in an improved Big Ten.

"You can't underestimate anybody, especially on the road," senior Goran Suton said this week. "You have to be ready, because we're Michigan State and we have a bull's eye on our back."

The depth of the Spartans should play a vital role in helping the Green & White navigate their way through a rigorous Big Ten schedule.

"There is still one area that the coach has to do a better job of, and that's dispersing our depth in the right way, " Coach Tom Izzo said. "I don't think that we're utilizing it in any type of a rhythmic manner."

Sophomore Durrell Summers thinks that problem is steadily being resolved due to the team's improved play on one end of the floor.

"Defensively, everybody has been pretty solid, so coach can play guys a little longer and rest some guys," Summers said. "I think we can wear some teams down that don't have as much depth as us."

The Illini's resurgence is one of the main reasons why the Big Ten is much improved. The Illini finished last season 16-19, with three of those wins coming in the Big Ten Tournament. This season they are 15-2 and will more than likely finish with 20 victories.

"Illinois is definitely worthy of a ranking and worthy of being considered a great team because of what they do defensively and, I say, the improvement especially of their two big kids (Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis)," Izzo said.

The Illini are proof of how important experience is. Illinois returned the vast majority of their scoring from a season ago, led by Demetri McCamey and Trent Meacham. Those two are the team's top two scorers this season.

Tisdale, who just came off of a 24 point, three block performance against Michigan, is vastly improved. He is a skilled big man, and he is putting up just under 12 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.

And forward Mike Davis has upped his totals from 2.6 points and 1.8 rebounds last season to 11.4 points and 7.5 rebounds this year.

Despite a sub par record, the Illini played Michigan State extremely tough last season, especially defensively. In the two MSU victories, Illinois did not allow the Spartans to reach the 60-point plateau in either game. And the general consensus from the Spartans this week has been that the key to the game on Saturday will be to simply play harder than Illinois.

But that's easier said than done against a team coached by Bruce Weber and led by guard Chester Frazier, who Tom Izzo says is their Travis Walton. Frazier will not put the ball in the basket at a high clip, but he runs the offense efficiently and is a dog on defense. Walton is looking forward to the matchup.

"I love playing against Chester Frazier," Walton said. "I really don't know him, but I just know he plays tough. Every time we play, it's a tough match. He's a heck of a leader, so it's going to be a great game."

A new addition to the Illinois program is Detroit native Alex Legion. Legion will be playing in only his eighth game, but it will be his fifth against a team from his home state (Detroit, Eastern Michigan and the Wolverines twice).

Legion gives Weber's club a versatile weapon that they need on the offensive end. Many Spartans know the type of player that Legion can be, including one of his former teammates.

"I haven't seen him play in a while," guard Kalin Lucas said. "When we used to play AAU together, he was a great shooter. When he comes in the game, we have to make sure we do contain him and make sure he doesn't get off to a hot start."

Izzo recruited Legion and has high praise for the sophomore.

"Alex Legion is a great player," Izzo says. "He's not a good player, he's a great player. … There might not be a better scorer that's come out of this state in a long time. As he fits into that system, he's going to be a big addition to the Illini."

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