Illinois vs Missouri: Complete Game Preview
Many families have unique holiday traditions they repeat on an annual basis. It is always an exciting time of year to share joy with loved ones.
When it comes to the rivalry between Missouri and Illinois, tradition is certainly intact, but love may be another story.
The annual Braggin' Rights game between No. 12 Missouri and No. 10 Illinois is set to take place on Saturday night at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. The arena is generally a spectacle to see, with half the fans clad in orange and the other half in gold.
But the teams on the court this year are spectacles as well. Both are highly ranked and combined, the two teams had dropped just one game between them.
Because of the rivalry, the tradition, and the fact that both teams are highly ranked, tickets are hard to come by and currently going for around $200 to sit in the upper-bowl.
A lot is on the line for both Missouri and Illinois this weekend. Not only is pride at stake, but also a chance to notch a quality win and build the resume.
Here is a complete breakdown of what to watch for when the Missouri Tigers and the Illinois Illini tip-off on Saturday evening.
Will Phil Pressey Be Able to Solve the Very Good Illinois Defense?
The last time Mizzou faced a stiff test and an imposing opponent, the Mizzou offense was stagnant.
In the Missouri loss to Louisville, the offense looked confused against the the Louisville Cardinals pressure defense and matchup zone. So confused they forgot to move or make cuts on offense, leaving Phil Pressey to try and make plays himself. The results were horrifying, as Pressey forced up 15 shots and turned the ball over an alarming eight times.
The Illinois Illini defense does not apply the same type of pressure, but John Groce's team can cause some problems if the offense is not clicking.
The Illini have allowed opponents to score over 70 points just twice this season, and one of those contests was an overtime game. The other was in a big win against a very good Gonzaga team, who average over 80 points per game.
The Illini can man-up on defense, so Pressey will have to be extra sharp in distributing the rock and making smart decisions. Pressey will need to be aggressive and attack the Illinois defense, but will also have to make sure he is not forcing the issue or turning the ball over.
Can Mizzou Contain Illini Guard Brandon Paul?
Every season that he has been in, Champaign, Illinois senior guard Brandon Paul has steadily improved.
Paul has improved so much so that he should now be considered one of the best guards in the Big 10.
Paul is leading the Illinois Illini in scoring this season, pouring in 18.8 points per game, which is significantly better than the 14.7 points he scored as a junior.
Paul is scoring more efficiently as well, making 46.4 of his field goal attempts and 39.8 percent from three-point range.
Paul is not just a one trick pony though. He is a complete player. The 6'4" Paul is leading the Illini in rebounding as well, grabbing over five boards per game. Paul isn't afraid to pass up a shot either, dishing out over three assists per contest.
Paul is clearly the player Mizzou must concentrate on stopping if they hope to beat the undefeated Illini.
So can Mizzou match-up with Paul? That depends on which version of Keion Bell shows up to play.
Bell has clearly been inconsistent this season at both ends of the floor. His most important contribution on Saturday will be on the defensive end and it will be interesting to see if Bell is up to the challenge of trying to stop a top-flight talent like Brandon Paul.
Even if Bell plays well, Paul gives the Illini a distinct advantage at the shooting guard position and is the type of player who could put his team on his back and win a big game.
Can Alex Oriakhi and Missouri Dominate the Glass?
Last season, Missouri was primarily a guard-oriented team, relying on a barrage of sharp-shooters to knock down shots and point guard Phil Pressey to lead a blitzing fast-break.
This season, even with Pressey back running the show, the Missouri Tigers are much different team thanks to the inside presence of senior Alex Oriakhi.
The former UConn big-man has played well for head coach Frank Haith and has given the Tigers a huge presence in the paint. So huge that Mizzou actually leads the nation in rebounding, grabbing 46.1 boards a game as a team.
The Illinois Illini, on the other hand, snatch just 36.6 boards per game, which is 136th in the nation.
So will the Illini big men be able to keep Oriakhi off the offensive boards? Will Nnanna Egwu and Tyler Griffey be able to protect the paint? Or will the Tigers have a field day inside?
The battle down low could very well determine the outcome on Saturday and unlike last year, the Tigers have a huge advantage.
Will the Illini Have an Answer for Laurence Bowers?
As mentioned previously, the Illinois Illini will have their hands full trying to keep Missouri off the glass.
They also will have their hands full while trying to stop Mizzou senior forward Laurence Bowers.
Bowers has shown an improved ability to score the basketball this season, particularly from the outside. The 6'9'' power forward has shown he can knock down open 15 to 18 footers with ease and when you couple that with his inside game, Bowers becomes a tough matchup for anybody.
Bowers leads Mizzou in scoring this season, knocking in 16.3 points per game and is shooting a lights-out 58.6 percent from the field.
It would behoove Mizzou to get Bowers the ball regularly and it will be interesting to see if Illinois can stop him. Nobody else has been able to yet this season.
Will the Illini Have an Edge in Experience?
Only two players, Phil Pressey and Laurence Bowers, have played in the Braggin' Rights game for the Missouri Tigers in the past, with only Pressey playing for Mizzou last year.
Meanwhile, the Illini will suit up six players on Saturday who made appearances in the game last season.
Sure John Groce will be in his first matchup with Mizzou from the bench, but it is not as if Mizzou head coach Frank Haith has been around a long time himself. Haith is in just his second season.
The environment at the Scottrade Center promises to be electric. So it should be interesting to see if the Illini's edge in experience in this game will make a meaningful difference.
With the intensity high, the team that will be able keep their composure the best should win this game. The Illini may have an advantage.
Conclusion: Anything Can Happen in a Braggin' Rights Game
It will be interesting to see how Missouri and Illinois matchup on Saturday.
It is a tale of two different teams from last season. Just a year ago Illinois was led by Meyers Leonard and Mizzou was firing shots from the parking lot. This year, the teams have flip-flopped styles of play a bit.
Mizzou has won the last three games in the rivalry. Prior to that, the Illini had rattled off nine wins in a row over Mizzou.
Anything can happen in this game between these two border schools with rich, basketball traditions. There have been some wild showdowns and almost every season, no matter where each team is ranked, it almost always is a great game.
Saturday night should be no different and if you are lucky enough to score an expensive ticket, you should see an excellent basketball game in St. Louis.