After a week’s rest, the Illinois men’s basketball team is back at it on Sunday when Michigan State comes to the State Farm Center. It was just two weeks ago the Illini went to East Lansing and handed the Spartans a 59-54 loss, giving each team a good deal of familiarity with each other.
Since losing to Illinois, however, MSU has won all three of its games, including beating #23 Ohio State. John Groce called the Spartans, arguably, the hottest team in the Big Ten at the moment. Illinois held Travis Trice in check on February 7th, but since he’s been hot, averaging more than 15 points and 5 assists over the last three games. Keeping him in check, as well as limiting damage done by Denzel Valentine, will be crucial in Sunday’s contest.
Defending home court is fairly crucial for the Illini at this stage. With just five games remaining (three at home) and a 17-9 (7-6) record, winning the home contests is the way into the NCAA Tournament for Illinois. In each of its last five wins (including MSU on February 7th), Illinois has held opponents to less than 58 points. Repeating that kind of defensive performance would go a long way toward beating the Spartans a second time this year.
Illinois has been playing without Aaron Cosby since January 31st, when he was suspended for an unspecified violation of team rules. It was announced Friday that the redshirt junior would not be returning to the team at all this year or next. Cosby will continue as a student this year, earning a degree at Illinois, but will seek to transfer after this year and play his final year of eligibilty as a master’s student at another university.
In 19 games Cosby averaged 7.8 points and 3.6 rebounds. His time with the team was seen as something of a disappointment, however, and he saw his minutes steadily decline after beginning the year in the starting lineup. Cosby likely envisioned a future at Illinois where minutes would be more scarce mad decided the best option for him was to move on. Next season highly regarded recruits Aaron Jordan and Jalen Coleman-Lands would have been vying for time with Cosby at the shooting guard position.
A full press release on Cosby’s departure from the Illini can be read here.