(My apologies, Bleacher Reporters, for my two week absence. That's what final exams and corrective eye surgery will do to you. Nevertheless, here is my preview for the Braggin' Rights game tonight between the University of Missouri Tigers and the University of Illinois Fightin' Illini).
While it hasn't reached Chicago Cubs status yet, the Missouri Tigers may have forgotten what the Braggin' Rights Trophy looks like.
The Tigers look to avoid extending its losing streak against the Illini tonight in the annual basketball game in St Louis.
Mike Anderson may have proven to be Superman for MU, turning the program around to the tune of an Elite Eight run last year and school-record 31 victories. But Bruce Weber and Company have been Coach Anderson's kryptonite, sweeping the Tigers in all three previous matches.
However, unlike earlier games in the skid, MU has been competitive against Illinois in CMA's three tries, losing by slim margins of three and one in his first two games before falling by 16 last year despite the talented squad of DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons.
This year, the departure of those two former Tiger post players looks to be the X-factor.
Junior center Mike Tisdale, measuring in at 7'1'', will give Mizzou some problems down low. Despite his preference for short jumpers instead of traditional low-post moves, Tisdale will give the Tigers problems at the defensive end of the floor.
Illinois ranks fourth in the Big Ten in defensive rebounds with 29 per game.
Despite ranking fifth in the Big XII in offensive rebounds, the Tigers have struggled as of late to continue their offense with second and third chance shots.
In their three losses this year, MU managed just 11 offensive rebounds per game.
Tisdale and fellow front court monster Mike Davis, a 6'9'' junior averaging 9.5 rpg, look to limit that number to single digits.
Look for Tisdale to assert himself in the defensive low post as well tonight.
Relying on hot shooting from the likes of Kim English and fast break points from their up-tempo style has left a glaring discrepancy in low-post scoring.
Despite Laurence Bowers averaging 10 ppg, MU has yet to establish a back to the basket, dominant scorer. Tisdale and his 2.1 bpg look to derail any low post effort tonight by the Tigers.
Overcoming the psychology of a losing streak is possibly the most formidable obstacle for the Tigers tonight.
Worrying about what's happened in this series past will not get the Tigers a W. By obsessing over the previous nine losses and the lack of momentum coming into tonight's game, MU creates an image of Illinois that doesn't necessarily exist.
However, ignoring the streak could have an equally debilitating effect on MU.
By looking at this game as any other game, the team attempts to achieve its' goal by lessening its focus. Often times, this "elephant in the room" creates an unconscious obsession equal to that of focusing on the history of the streak.
In both cases, focus is increased among the MU players.
While this may sound like a good thing, athletes perform at their best in the absence of focus, absence of thought.
Tonight, Coach Anderson must make the preparations to get his players in the moment, focused enough to execute but not over analyze and come out stuffy and tense.
Or else the Tigers might have to start investigating Steve Bartman-like excuses for their futility against Illinois.