• What: Michigan State at Illinois
• When: 7 pm (ET) Tuesday
• Where: State Farm Center, Champaign, Illinois
• TV/Radio: ESPN/Spartan Sports Network radio, including WJIM 1240-AM and WMMQ 94.9-FM; Sirius/XM Ch. 81 (MSU broadcast)
• Records/Rankings: MSU is 15-3 overall and 6-1 in the Big Ten, ranked No. 10 in both the Associated Press poll and the USA Today Coaches poll. Illinois is 13-5 overall and 6-2 in the Big Ten and ranked No. 24 in the AP Poll and 21 in the Coaches Poll.
• Coaches: MSU – Tom Izzo is 658-257 in his 27th season as a head coach, all with the Spartans. Illinois — Brad Underwood is 193-88 in his ninth season as a Division I head coach, including 84-61 in his fifth season with the Illini.
• Series: MSU leads 64-60 all-time, having won the only meeting last season, an 81-72 late-February win at Breslin Center, which helped propel the Spartans’ late-season surge into the NCAA tournament.
• Betting line: Illinois -5.5
C (30) Marcus Bingham Jr. (7-0) 9.6
PF (10) Joey Hauser (6-9) 6.8
SF (44) Gabe Brown (6-8) 13.6
SG (5) Max Christie (6-6) 10.5
PG (2) Tyson Walker (6-0) 7.1
C (21) Kofi Cockburn (7-0) 21.1
G(3) Jacob Grandison (6-6) 11.6
G (11) Alfonzo Plummer (6-1) 16.4
G (1) Trent Frazier (6-2) 13.4
G (20) Da’ Monte Williams (6-3) 4.1
• MSU update: The Spartans are coming off a teeth-showing win at Wisconsin, 86-74, during which they reminded us just how formidable they can be when they play with focus and an edge. At 6-1 in the Big Ten, MSU sits alone atop the Big Ten standings heading into another telling week — with tonight’s game at Illinois, followed by Saturday’s home date with Michigan. The Spartans won at Wisconsin largely because of their grit, but they’re also still shooting the ball at a rather torrid pace from long range, hitting nearly 49% of their total shots and better than 40% of 3-point tries in seven conference games.
MORE: Couch: A lot of good happened for MSU at Wisconsin – including the arrival of Malik Hall’s go-to move
• Illinois update: The Illini were rolling along, playing as well as anyone in the Big Ten. Then they ran into Purdue and then some bad luck. Star big man Kofi Cockburn, their leading scorer and rebounder and sizable matchup problem for most teams, suffered a concussion in practice and missed Illinois’ game at Maryland over the weekend, which the Illini lost. Standout guard Andre Curbelo was also limited in that game by the flu and missed practice Sunday. He is expected to play against MSU. Illinois coach Brad Underwood, however, isn’t saying whether Cockburn has been cleared to go or not.
• Inside the match up: Cockburn’s status changes this matchup significantly. If he can play, the Illini have a giant anchor to an otherwise guard-heavy lineup and a roster that I think really fits. Cockburn would be a test of Marcus Bingham’s improved strength and understanding of how to utilize his length. Cockburn’s presence would also likely mean a heavy dose of Julius Marble to assist with a bit more braun and perhaps even Mady Sissoko, to provide extra resistance and a few fouls.
MSU will have a size advantage just about everywhere else, other than at point guard. But Illinois’ lineup features three players who can stretch a defense in Jacob Grandison, Alfonzo Plummer and Trent Frazier, who’s been at Illinois so long that he played against Miles Bridges at MSU. Plummer, a sharpshooting transfer from Utah has given the Illini an impor lift this season. At its best earlier this month, Illinois was a tremendously efficient team offensively. The Illini should get even better with Curbelo, who missed most of the first two months of the season after suffering a concussion. But with his fitness in question and Cockburn’s availability uncertain, it’s hard to know exactly what sort of challenge the Spartans are facing.
• Prediction: If Cockburn plays, it’s hard to pick MSU, even with how the Spartans played at Wisconsin on Friday. The State Farm Center is another rocking arena and the Illini have more weapons than the Badgers do, including a mammoth center that requires significant attention. I’m guessing Cockburn plays.
make it: Illinois 76, MSU 72
Contact Graham Couch at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.