As the postseason approaches, No. 18 Michigan State will have all its key players in the lineup when it hosts Illinois on Saturday. Junior swingman Branden Dawson, averaging 10.2 points and a team-best 8.7 rebounds, is the final piece after missing the last nine games with a broken hand. "(Dawson) is going to play with a little bit of a brace on that doesn't seem like it affects a lot of things, but it still is there," coach Tom Izzo told MLive.com. "How much I play him, I have no clue."
The Spartans have played only two of their last 20 games with the best possible starting lineup of senior guard Keith Appling, sophomore guard Gary Harris, senior forward Adreian Payne, sophomore guard Denzel Valentine and Dawson. Appling (13.6 points per game) continues to be bothered by a wrist injury, which forced him to miss three games, and he scored just nine total points in three contests since his return. The Fighting Illini have won two straight after a 60-49 victory over Nebraska on Wednesday and will be out to avenge a 78-62 loss to the Spartans while trying to stop a six-game slide in East Lansing.
TV: 4 p.m. ET, ESPN
ABOUT ILLINOIS (16-12, 5-10 Big Ten): After winning their first two conference games, the Illini lost 10 of their next 11 before the recent hot streak that also includes a 62-49 victory at Minnesota on Feb. 19. Freshman guard Kendrick Nunn (5.7 points per game) has averaged 16 over the last two games and 13 in his last five contests. Junior guard Rayvonte Rice averages a team-best 16 points, but combined to score 16 in the last two games while shooting 4-for-20 from the floor.
ABOUT MICHIGAN STATE (22-6, 11-4): Some wonder why Izzo continues to play Appling, but he offered a simple explanation. “Of course his wrist is affecting his shot, but he still drove, he did some things,” Izzo told the Detroit Free Press. “But I’ve got to get guys ready to play down the road, too. … I’m gonna keep playing Appling because I’m gonna play guys that are gonna be playing down the stretch.” Payne (16.4 points, 7.7 rebounds per game) averaged 17 points in six games since missing seven because of a foot injury, and recorded 12 points and 11 rebounds - his sixth double-double of the season - in a 79-70 loss at No. 16 Michigan on Sunday.
1. Valentine and little-used freshman F Gavin Schilling are the only Spartans to appear in every game this season.
2. Illinois F-C Nnanna Egwu averages 6.1 rebounds, but 10.5 in his last four games.
3. The Spartans have won 10 of the last 14 meetings, with all four losses occurring in Champaign.