The Big Ten is a wide-open conference this year.
Purdue is ahead of Illinois and Wisconsin by only half a game in the regular season conference standings. KenPom currently projects a four-team battle between Purdue, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Ohio State for the regular season conference crown.
Of the 14 teams in the Big Ten, eight or nine could make the NCAA Tournament. Five teams are nationally ranked, including Illinois and Michigan State.
Both teams meet in Michigan this weekend. Illinois has been a slightly better team this season, but can they overcome Michigan State’s homecourt advantage to stay alive in the Big Ten regular season conference championship race?
Please note that all college basketball odds and lines are not listed as of 6 p.m. ET on Friday, February 18.
Illinois vs Michigan State Predictions
Illinois has faced a brutal schedule this season. The Fighting Illini have played the 14th-toughest schedule this season.
Despite these difficulties, Illinois has managed to go 18-7 thus far with victories against Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, and Iowa. This is due in part to a having a top-25 offense and defense.
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On the other side of the coin, Illinois lost to Purdue twice and Arizona, two teams that are likely No. 1 or No. 2 seeds in the NCAA tournament. The Illini are great at beating decent teams, but they have trouble against elite teams.
Luckily for Illinois, Michigan State has been relatively mediocre this season. Outside of UConn and Wisconsin, the Spartans haven’t beaten any ranked teams this season. They have also lost three of their last four games, including embarrassing losses to Rutgers and Penn State.
In their one meeting against Illinois last month, Michigan State lost 56-55, which is one of only two one-possession losses this season. MSU’s other five losses were much more lopsided.
The Spartans are not overwhelmingly strong on offense or defense. In the past they have been one of the best Big Ten teams, but this has been an off year.
I expect a close, low-scoring game, but for Illinois to win on the road.
Illinois vs Michigan State Prediction: Illinois 60, Michigan State 56
Illinois vs Michigan State Best Bet
Best Bet: Illinois if -1 or better
Wager: 1 Unit
Michigan State has a leg up against Illinois since they are playing at home, but based on their recent performance, it’s unclear if they deserve to be favored.
In their last meeting, Michigan State shot only 3-14 from three and 16-41 from two, and managed to lose by only one point. Additionally, Illinois was missing its best player, Kofi Cockburn.
Cockburn is back in the Illinois lineup, and I believe that Michigan State will be outmatched because of his presence.