Illinois-Missouri: Illini Look to Topple Familiar Foe

Oliver VanDervoortCorrespondent IDecember 23, 2008

After running a "gauntlet" of second rate opponents, tonight's matchup against surprise Top 25 Missouri should tell the Illini and their fans just how good head coach Bruce Weber's 2008-09 edition of his team is.

A lackluster performance against the Detroit Titans, highlighted by a season-high 20 turnovers, has left more than a few Illinois fans feeling just a bit queasy as the team enters into a difficult stretch where the Illini will take on Missouri, Eastern Michigan, and then begin Big Ten play.

Some experts predicted a disappointing season for the Missouri Tigers, with a finish in the bottom half of the Big 12 considered almost a certainty.  But so far, the Tigers have worked hard to prove prognosticators wrong.  A 9-1 start to the year, punctuated with an 11-point win over the then 19th-ranked USC Trojans, has Missouri jumping into the AP poll at No. 25.

The Tigers have been led by a high scoring duo in seniors DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyon.  Both players are averaging over 15 points per game and haul down an average of seven rebounds apiece per game. 

Illinois will attempt to counter with Mike Davis, who is averaging just under 14 points per game and over eight boards per contest.  He'll need to step up his game after his last time out saw him as a non-contributor, scoring just four points and grabbing just three rebounds against Detroit. 

Seven-foot-tall Mike Tisdale will be called heavily against Mizzou after breaking out for 15 points in his last game.  The Tigers don't have a player over 6'9", so expect Weber to work the ball into the paint on every possible opportunity.

The X-factor for this game is the fact that Illinois has won eight straight against their border rival, with the streak extended last year thanks to an eyelash-thin 59-58 victory.  Should Illinois win, a slot in the Top 25 will probably be in the offing.