The time is nearly upon us as we prepare to witness the renewal of one of the better college basketball rivalry games in the nation. A neutral arena will fill half full in one school’s colors and half full in the other school’s colors. It creates an electric atmosphere and sets the stage for a non-conference game unlike any other in the nation. For those that have watched it in the past, the name says it all.
Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Missouri Tigers – The Bud Light Braggin’ Rights game
Whether it’s considered bragging rights or a border war, the point is clear. These two schools are rivals because they share state borders and recruiting turf. Unlike the two school’s football programs who no longer clash on the gridiron, the basketball teams will decide who the better team is in an actual game this Saturday afternoon.
The Illinois Fighting Illini (9-2) come in to this game fresh off a tough defeat to the #15 Oregon Ducks in the home of the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers. It was their second game on an NBA floor this season.
The Missouri Tigers, on the other hand, come in to this game undefeated at 10-0, narrowly escaping defeat in their last game out against Western Michigan by a tight 66-60 margin.
The Tigers also come in ranked #23 in the nation, and riding a 4 game winning streak in the series. Illinois, on the other hand, holds a 20-12 advantage in the all-time standings in the series.
Make no mistake, this will be a battle Saturday afternoon. So, what does Illinois have to do to stop the Tigers recent success in the series?
For starters, they need to limit the talented trio of Missouri guards from completely having their way on the offensive end of the floor. Jordan Clarkson leads the Tigers in scoring (19.4 ppg), but he only shoots 29% from 3 point range. Illinois needs to force him into settling for the 3 pointer if at all possible. Jabari Brown is the second leading scorer (19 ppg), and unlike Clarkson, Brown actually converts at a high clip from 3 point range (42.2% on 27 of 64 attempts). Earnest Ross rounds out the trio of guards and he is the third leading scorer on Missouri’s roster (14.2 ppg).
Last season, Brown had his way in the Braggin’ Rights game while finishing with 18 points and 7 rebounds. The difference last year was that he wasn’t being guarded by Rayvonte Rice who will certainly have his work cut out for him, but should be able to handle the task.
Clarkson had been on a run of 5 straight 20+ point performances heading into the WMU game, but he was held to 12 points, and as a result Missouri played a much tighter game than I am sure they would have liked. Tracy Abrams is going to be giving up size, as Clarkson is 6’5″, but Abrams needs to meet the defensive challenge head on with the toughness that all Illini fans know he possesses.
The player to watch on the interior for Missouri is freshman Johnathan Williams, III. He is a defensive presence, leading the Tigers with 14 blocked shots, and he is a rebounding force while leading the Tigers with 84 rebounds (8.4 rpg). Looking inside the numbers, however, is more revealing. Williams III really hits the offensive glass. He has a team leading 35 offensive rebounds. The next closest Tiger has 13 on the season. Egwu and Ekey are going to have to be cognizant of Williams III when every shot goes up on Missouri’s end of the floor. Illinois can not afford to allow Missouri multiple looks on a single possession if they hope to come away with the upset victory.
Three Things I’d Like To See:
1. Control the Glass - Illinois has been out-rebounded in 4 of their last 5 games. Not shockingly, both of their losses have happened during this run of poor rebounding performances. Illinois must do better and I’d like to see it start this weekend.
2. Rice, Abrams, and Bertrand need to attack the rim – If the Illini guards attack the rim, chances increase that they might be able to get Clarkson and Brown into early foul trouble. Get those guys in foul trouble and get their scoring ability off the floor.
3. Someone from the bench step up - A year ago, Joseph Bertrand came off the bench to play 30 minutes and drop 13 points on the Tigers. Perhaps former St. Louis Post-Dispatch All-Metro Player of the Year Malcolm Hill will show why he earned those honors a year ago. The bottom line is that someone has to step up from the bench and supplement the offensive production of the Illinois starting five.
When: Saturday, December 21, 2013 @ 4:30 CST.
Where: St. Louis, MO – Scottrade Center
Announcers: Dave O’Brien (Play by Play) & Jimmy Dykes (Analyst)
Here’s a chance to watch John Groce drink coffee and answer questions in his 12/19/13 pre-Braggin’ Rights press conference courtesy of Illini Productions.
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @RPKraemer.