Ben Verdonk is the perfect MSU Spartan, and if he were playing for them, he’d be their latest Hutson or Anagonye — a guy who sets screens, rebounds, passes and converts enough put-backs to maintain a scoring average.
But if Ben is tonight’s starting center, MSU can shift its defensive focus to the perimeter. That’s why we’re all hoping Kofi Cockburn will pull a Curbelo-esque surprise tonight.
Intriguingly, Tomm Izzo expects Kofi to play.
Lithe MSU center Marcus Bingham has never been an offensive threat, but he’s capable of bothering opposing bigs on defense.
His slight build means a muscular butt and a well placed elbow can shift him on the low post, but he still has those gangly arms. He’s blocked 50% more shots this season than Kofi & Omar Payne combined.
The MSU offense is spread around in an annoyingly even fashion. You know that the point & the pivot are not their primary scoring positions, and that’s nice and old school. But anyone among Gabe Brown, Malik Hall and Max Christie might be the hot-hand/leading scorer on any given night.
Brown and Christie are less effective than Hall, but they get a lot more tick and launch a lot more shots. Harassing Brown defensively probably won’t get him to stop shooting, but certainly has the potential to ruin his evening. 30 minutes of the Da’Monte Williams treatment could make it a fun night for Illini fans.
Unlike Illinois, the Spartans can win without heaving a lot of three-pointers. Where the Illini launch 26 threes per game, MSU shoots only 19. It’s not because they’re bad at it. They convert 39%.
Contrast Purdue, which shoots 24/game and hits 40%. MSU is pretty good, but more reliant on turning defense into offense as the saying goes. Rebounding & transition remains The Izzo Way.
The surefire way to beat these Spartans is to get hot from three, which means Alfonso Plummer needs to hit about 7-of-10, Jacob Grandison 5-of-7 and Trent Frazier 5-of-9. Seventeen makes in twenty-six tries will get the job done, assuming everyone learned his lesson on defensive gaps — the Achilles Heel against Donta Scott and the Terps.
Andre Curbelo is sick, so even if he plays tonight, he won’t be Andre the Magician. Illinois needs to keep turnovers at 10 or below to have a chance; so a feverish, disoriented Belo won’t help the cause.