Smile Politely

The Trap Game

Chicken-counting Illini fans are looking, this morning, at a depressing basket of eggs. Another win is not scheduled for hatching until February 9th, in State College, PA.

On the other hand, these fans had already filled-in Ws for the Northwestern and Purdue games.

I wonder how many of these fans assume tonight’s opponent, Michigan State, is an insurmountable monolith, more legend than assortment of athletes. After all, they’re ranked #4, haven’t lost a conference game, and are 16–1 overall. Their coach is the The Pillar, the six-time Final Four qualifier who Does It The Right Way.

It should be difficult for the independent observer to conjure a scenario in which MSU escapes Champaign with a victory.

If you watched Wisconsin’s first loss (last Tuesday night in Bloomington, IN) you’ve already seen the script enacted. Undefeated team travels to hostile hoops hotbed to face wounded warriors.

But in this case, it’s the Spartans that are wounded. Michigan State’s stars can barely get out of bed these days. They’re a wreck.

Keith Appling can’t confidently dribble down court without worrying that his shoulder will pop out of its socket. Adreian Payne didn’t play at all in the most recent two games because he has plantar fasciitis and a sprain in the same foot.

Branden Dawson did not catch mono from Matt Costello, but he did miss practice this week with some kind of virus.

Gary Harris’ conditioning has, according to Tom Izzo, still not reached its peak after Harris sat out games in December with a chronically sprained ankle.

Meanwhile in Champaign, Rayvonte Rice says he’s about 100% recovered from his adductor strain. Tracy Abrams’ leg problems were just cramps, not muscle or ligament damage.

Dustin Ford on injuries:

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Yesterday before practice, Paris Parham sauntered on to the dimly lit State Farm Center court chanting “it’s gonna get brighter… it’s gonna get brighter” and suddenly the Klieg lights popped on.

John Groce says all teams are sore this time of year. But Illinois is a lot less sore than MSU. Mike LaTulip is feeling good again, following his concussion at Wisconsin. Maybe LaTulip’s availability is not the key to victory, but his story is indicative of the seriousness and professionalism of the Illini medical and fitness support staff.

The student-athletes are monitored literally all the time. In practice, each player wears a heart monitor strapped to his chest. Strength and Conditioning coach Mike Basgier says its main utility is to help the coaches understand when they’re not pushing hard enough.

He also adds, in case you’re wondering, that no Illini has complained about the strap affecting his shot (although, he says, it was an issue at Villanova).

Two Illini freshmen, Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn, are finding their groove on offense.

Hill adds rebounding and Nunn’s defensive footwork has improved on a nearly game-by-game basis. Nnanna Egwu is as due for a good game as any player could be.

I almost feel bad for the Spartans.

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