Two veteran Big Ten coaches square off in Champaign today looking to get their teams on a roll heading into the conference home stretch.  Michigan State is right in the thick of the Big Ten race with two losses while Illinois is a dangerous four-loss team.

 

In this league, every road win is considered a steal.  Illinois knocked off conference favorite Ohio State on their home floor and then ceded that win less than a month later when the Badgers knocked them off in Champaign.  Teams have to protect their home courts at all costs and hope to steal one on the road when someone has an off night.

 

The Illini will undoubtedly try to send the Spartans home with another road loss.  Michigan State has yet to play a complete game on the road having lost by one to Michigan and losing to Northwestern in Evanston.  However, the Spartans have shown that they can win on the road having beaten Wisconsin in Madison.

 

Michigan State will really heavily on Draymond Green’s leadership and Big Ten road experience.  Green has proven himself as an all-around basketball player who can beat you a lot of different ways.

 

Bruce Weber spoke with me about preparing for Michigan State and Draymond Green in particular.  “It is very hard…you have to give up something.  He’s got the body, the athleticism… for a big guy he moves pretty well.   His biggest attributes are his understanding of the game and his heart and his leadership.  He puts you in a lot of binds.”

 

Although Green is counted on as a primary scoring option, his passing and his rebounding often keep MSU in tight games.  He is the quarterback of this MSU team and creates match-up problems all over the floor.  He doesn’t need to score the basketball to dominate a game.  

 

Coach Izzo knows that a road win in Champaign would be huge for his Spartans.  As the season wears on, Izzo’s team continues to develop.  A road win in Champaign isn’t out of the question and MSU matches up favorably with Illinois’ size and athleticism.

 

One of Izzo’s young athletes is freshman Branden Dawson who has gotten on a roll scoring double figures the last couple outings.  I asked Tom a little about Dawson’s development as a scoring option.  He has this to say about his small forward from Gary, Indiana.  “I’ll tell you Branden (Dawson) has worked really hard on his shooting.  He’s a ways from being a consistent shooter at range yet and the good news is that he knows it.  He doesn’t take a lot of bad shots.”

 

Tom spoke at length about Dawson and where he sees both a need for improvement and where this young star is headed.  “His ball handling skills are very good.  His ability to run the lane is what I’d like him to improve on.  He should be one of those slashers.  He has learned that he needs to go to the goal when ‘Day-Day’ (Green) has the ball.  With his strength and athleticism he should become one of those dynamite players in the league.”

 

Michigan State has an opportunity to make a statement today.  A win in Champaign would make up for the bad loss at Northwestern and put them on track to share or capture the Big Ten regular season title.  A loss wouldn’t take them out of contention, but would certainly put more pressure on this squad to win a tough road game at Ohio State, Purdue or Indiana.  Counting the Illinois game, I think MSU has to win two of the four to remain in contention.   One thing is for certain, this team hasn’t peaked yet and like most seasons, Izzo has them pointed toward another strong tournament run.  Weber, Izzo in Champaign… sounds like a good ol’ Big Ten tussle to me.