Michigan State and Illinois are looking to get better in specific areas as they resume Big Ten Conference play Thursday in East Lansing, Mich.
For the 14th-ranked Spartans (10-3, 2-0 Big Ten), the focus is on the play of their big men. After a 33-point win over Western Michigan to close out nonconference play, coach Tom Izzo lamented the effort of his frontcourt in the final minutes of a game Michigan State led by 45.
The long-term results will be important, but as the Spartans get set to take on Illinois (9-4, 1-1), it's even more critical because of the effectiveness of the Fighting Illini's two big men.
At 7-foot and 290 pounds, Kofi Cockburn is averaging 16.0 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks a game and has been named the Big Ten's Freshman of the Week five times. He scored a career-high 26 points in a victory over North Carolina A&T on Sunday, making 11 of 16 shots. Cockburn's running mate is the 6-9, 235-pound sophomore Giorgi Bezhanishvili, and he's scoring 8.5 points a game while grabbing an average of 5.3 rebounds.
In a loss to Missouri just before Christmas, the Illini managed just four assists. Against North Carolina A&T, they had 22 assists with Bezhanishvili dishing out five. The Illini are hoping it's a sign of things to come as they attempt to contend in the Big Ten.