CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — First place in the Big Ten Conference is on the line Tuesday night at State Farm Center between No. 10 Michigan State and No. 24 Illinois and the Illini will have to play without Kofi Cockburn and Andre Curbelo. Cockburn is still in concussion protocol after getting hurt in the practice before the Purdue game. Curbelo is in health and safety protocols, according to a team spokesperson.
The Spartans (15-3, 6-1) start the night one half game ahead of the Illini (13-5, 6-2), who are also tied with Wisconsin for second place in the league. The biggest storyline for Illinois is health though and without Cockburn and Curbelo, the team’s depth will once again be tested.
“I have no say in them,” Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said about his player’s injuries. “Guys, I have zero control. I don’t even ask. I don’t talk to our medical professionals, I don’t talk to anybody. We have a procedural process in place. I coach the guys who can show up, and when they tell me they can play, they can play.”
Michigan State has won three straight games in the series against Illinois, with the last Illini win coming in Brad Underwood’s second season, in 2018-19, when Ayo Dosunmu dropped a game high 24 points including a late 3 to seal the victory.
“They play hard,” Illinois senior guard Jacob Grandison said. “And they kind of pride themselves on being the toughest team, scrapiest team in the league. And last couple of years, from what I’ve heard it kind of feels like we’ve taken over that identity or that role. It’s one of those games where you have to bring your big boy pants, and be ready to bang and run and make shots and defend.”
“I think the one thing about Tom’s teams, they’re really good at what they do,” said Underwood. “They make adjustments accordingly. They’re going to run, they’re going to try and get easy baskets, they run with great pace. You’ve got to take that aspect away.”
Illinois and Michigan State tip-off at 6 p.m. on ESPN.