Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Illinois gets a big win, but Michigan State suffers a bigger loss?

Illinois got the win they so desperately needed.

Coming into Tuesday night's game against Michigan State, the Illini had lost three games in a row since their win over Ohio State. Two of those losses came against Minnesota and Penn State on the road. Sitting squarely on the bubble with a back-loaded league schedule -- six of their final ten games were against ranked teams and four of those games are on the road -- it should be quite obvious just how badly Illinois needed to beat the Spartans.

If Bruce Weber's team can't beat Minnesota or Penn State on the road, how are they going to handle someone like Ohio State or Indiana? And assuming they lose those last four road games, they would have eight league losses. That's a fine line to be skirting for a team whose best non-conference win is Gonzaga.

But the Illini got the job done, even if it came in just about the ugliest manner possible.

The final score was 42-41. Illinois shot 32.1% from the floor, which looks good compared to the 24.3% that Michigan State shot. The two teams combined to go 6-31 from three and turn the ball over 27 times. And if that's not enough, watching these two teams try to execute in the final minutes was akin to watching the lowest level of a 40-and-over men's league close out a game.

It was memorably ugly.

But depending on what kind of news comes out of East Lansing tomorrow, the score may not even be the most notable development in Assembly Hall on Tuesday.

With less than four minutes left in the game, Draymond Green took an awkward step trying to get around a screen and went down to the floor. He wasn't able to put any pressure on the leg for the rest of the game, hopping off the floor and later hopping into a team huddle, and left the arena on crutches with an ice wrap on his knee. He'll have more tests tomorrow, meaning that Michigan State fans will be waiting with bated breath to here the news.

Losing Green for an extended period of time -- or, god forbid, the rest of the season -- would be disastrous for the Spartans. He does so much for Michigan State. Let's forget about the fact that he is the team's leading scorer, their best rebounder, a terrific defender and one of the key facilitators in Tom Izzo's offensive attack. I don't need to explain to you just how valuable he is as a basketball player to this season's resurgence for Michigan State.

But Green is so much more than that.

In a day and age where early entry is the norm and four-year players are rarely stars on Final Four contenders, Green is the exception. He's been a cornerstone of this Michigan State program for four years and two Final Four trips, doing it all while his personality and quality of character trumps his basketball ability. He's a leader, and absence may never have been more evident than it was tonight.

Green picked up two quick fouls in the first half and got himself a technical for arguing the second whistle. That gave him three personal fouls and got him quickly sent to the bench for the final 11 minutes of the first half and the first five minutes of the second half. When he was on the floor, it was quite evident that Green was battling the flu as he finished 1-6 from the floor with five turnovers.

In other words, Green was non-existent, a non-factor.

And Michigan State scored 41 points and shot 24.1% from the floor.

You think they are going to miss him?

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