Hoops: Fight with Illini on Deck

"It does get sickening. It gets sickening because it's a bias east coast, it's a bias ACC, Big East," Coach Tom Izzo says about conference perceptions. "I have all the respect in the world for those teams, but it gets year after year. We put two teams in the Final Four, it's not good enough. We did that three of the four times we were there."

EAST LANSING — With three games left to go in the regular season, the Michigan State Spartans only have to win one of those games to guarantee at least a share of their first Big Ten championship since 2001.

The first opportunity comes Sunday against Illinois at Assembly Hall, one of the toughest places to play in the country.

"It's going to be tough. You know, with the Orange Crush it's a tough place to play," senior center Goran Suton said. "We won there last year, but it's one of the hardest places to play in the Big Ten, so it's going to be tough, but we a going to go down there confident."

The Spartans defeated the Fighting Illini earlier this season at the Breslin Center, 63-57, in a game in which the Spartans trailed for much of the second half. The defensive minded Illini will be even more aggressive playing a top 10 team at home while they are still in contention for a Big Ten championship.

"Every time we go there, it's always alive," said sophomore guard Durrell Summers, who noted that his ankle is at about 90%. "Their crowd is going to be into it. Especially playing us, it's going to be a big game for them. It's a big game for us, so I think it's going to be a lot of energy in there."

Michigan State and Purdue were expected to be the last teams standing in the Big Ten title race, but not many people expected Bruce Weber's club to be there, including MSU head coach Tom Izzo.

"No I didn't. I thought they'd be better, like I said in the first press conference, but I didn't think they'd be right where they were," Izzo explained.

"That's a great credit to Bruce and maybe a team that has gone from, if you listen to their press conferences and their players talk, maybe selfish a year ago to a total team this year. In your own way, you kind of pull for teams like that."

Even though MSU was victorious in their first meeting with Illinois, they weren't satisfied with the way they performed. In order to win in Champaign, they understand that one aspect of their game, in particular, must improve.

"I think turnovers," said Suton. "That's been the story for the past couple of weeks, maybe the whole season. We just got to limit the foolish ones. They're going to pressure and grab and do all the little things. We just have to be aggressive with the ball and limit those turnovers."

This may be toughest remaining game on the Spartans' schedule when you consider the fact that the Illini swept Purdue and the game is in Champaign, but senior guard Travis Walton says that every game must be approached with the same mindset.

"We can lose three games if we don't focus," Walton said. "We got some tough games ahead of us so we got to focus on Illinois and come prepared for them."

BIG TEN BASHING

Much has been made nationally about the style of play in the Big Ten Conference.

Many are complaining about the low scores and physical play, like this is some sort of new occurrence in the Big Ten. The criticism has not been taken well by some of the coaches in the Big Ten, namely Bruce Weber who was asked about the national perception of the Big Ten after his team's win over Minnesota earlier this week.

Weber was adamant about his displeasure and pointed out that the Big Ten has fared well in the non-conference season. He pointed out Michigan State's 13-point win over Kansas, Minnesota's win over Louisville, and his team's convincing win over Missouri.

Coach Izzo said that he did not see or hear what Weber on Thursday, but after being told, he agreed.

"I feel right there with him. We check in this conference," Izzo said. "I'm not trying to imply they don't in other conferences. The proofs in the pudding and year in, year out, I think we've taken care of a lot of business in the NCAA Tournament. We've earned our keep."

He also mentioned that he feels that there is a bias towards some conferences.

"It does get sickening. It gets sickening because it's a bias east coast, it's a bias ACC, Big East," Izzo explained. "I have all the respect in the world for those teams, but it gets year after year. We put two teams in the Final Four, it's not good enough. We did that three of the four times we were there."


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