Illini await Spartan matchup

Troy Stanger

Troy Stanger

By Lisa Koulias

After Illinois’ win over Minnesota on Saturday, head coach Bruce Weber said he already heard his team talking about tonight’s game.

“They’re ready to go up there,” Weber said on Saturday. “They know how big a game it is. It’s not a fear factor, ‘God, we’ve only got two days.’ It’s ‘we know where we’re going and we’re going to go up there.'”

So when No. 1 Illinois (21-0, 7-0) takes the court at 6 p.m. in East Lansing against No. 13 Michigan State (14-3, 5-1), expect a lot of energy.

And not just from the Illini.

The Spartans are looking to hand Illinois its first loss of the season and even things out with them in the Big Ten race. The Michigan State Athletic Department is holding its own type of “Paint the Hall Orange” day for the Spartans, asking that fans wear white T-shirts to help “White-Out” the Breslin Center.

“It’s going to be crazy,” said junior guard Deron Williams. “We didn’t play there last year, but I remember my freshman year it was pretty crazy. The Izzone (the student cheering section), they’re always pumped up.”

Good thing the Illini have played some of their best games against ranked teams this year. In five games against ranked opponents, the Illini have won by an average of 14.4 points. Last week the Illini broke a 38-game home winning streak at Wisconsin, beating the then No. 18 Badgers 75-65.

Weber knows how important this game is, because with a win, the Illini will be two-up on the Spartans, who lost at Wisconsin on Jan. 16. Although Michigan State has some losses under its belt, Weber still sees the Spartans as a top team.

“People, I think, downplay how good they are,” he said. “You just look at who they played. Their losses (at Duke, George Washington and Wisconsin) are not embarrassing losses. I still think they’re one of the better teams in the country.”

Augie honored, again

For the second time this season, junior center James Augustine was named Big Ten Player of the Week. This week’s honor comes after a pair of games where Augustine averaged 14.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks, while shooting 83.3 percent from the field (10-of-12).

Augustine leads the Big Ten in field goal percentage, shooting 64 percent from the field. He is averaging 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds on the year, and 12.3 points and 8.9 rebounds in Big Ten play.

Augustine was last awarded this honor on Jan. 10.

“James gets pretty consistent, and we just kind of take it for granted,” Weber said. “We don’t really say much about it. He has done some pretty good things quietly.”

Series standing

Illinois holds a slight advantage (49-47) in games against Michigan State, but the Spartans hold a 30-16 advantage in games played in East Lansing. The Illini have won three of the last four and four of the last six meetings. The last win for the Illini at the Breslin Center was on Feb. 12, 2002.

The two teams met once last year when the Illini handed the Spartans a 75-51 loss on Feb. 10, 2004. Tonight’s game is the only meeting between the schools this year during the regular season.

different kind of rating

While the Illini are working to keep their No. 1 rating, they are earning other high ratings as well. The Illinois-Wisconsin game on Jan. 25, televised by ESPN, achieved a 2.78 rating, which translates to roughly 2.5 million households. This makes it the seventh most-watched regular season college basketball game in ESPN history.