Missouri tips off in its final game before SEC play on Thursday, taking on No. 16 Illinois in St. Louis in the Braggin’ Rights game.
The Fighting Illini are similar to the Tigers in a couple of ways, both in that they had few players return from last year’s roster and that they play an up-tempo, ball-pressing style. Illinois has looked like an Elite Eight-caliber team in some games this year, with wins over UCLA and Texas, both of whom were ranked in the top 10 at the time. But the team’s also faltered in a few instances this season, with losses to No. 16 Virginia, No. 22 Maryland and unranked Penn State.
Mizzou lost last year’s Braggin’ Rights game, 88-63. But the Tigers won in each of the three years prior and also picked up victories each of the last four times the Fighting Illini were ranked. The team also has a better understanding of what to expect in a rivalry matchup after playing in the Border War two weeks ago.
“We experienced Kansas, so we know how it is now,” senior guard DeAndre Gholston said. “And we’re trying to go into the game tomorrow knowing that we can play with anybody in the country and try to win this game.”
TIP TIME INFORMATION
Missouri (10-1) vs. Illinois (8-3)
WHEN: 8 p.m.
WHERE: Enterprise Center, St. Louis, IL
TV: SEC Network
SERIES: Illinois leads, 33-19
KENPOM PREDICTION: Illinois 82, Missouri 77
BY THE NUMBERS
KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Don’t let Illinois leverage its size advantage. Mizzou head coach Dennis Gates said at Wednesday’s press conference he wants to see his team continue to do “the small things” such as boxing out and avoiding fouls. That’ll be easier said than done against the Fighting Illini, who will have a height advantage at nearly any position on the floor. The average Illinois player stands 78.3 inches tall according to KenPom, which ranks 32nd in the country. Three of Illinois’ top four scorers include 6-foot-9 sophomore Dain Dainja, 6-foot-9 senior Matthew Mayer and 6-foot-10 junior Coleman Hawkins — the team is connecting on 57.2% of its 2-pointers this year. The Fighting Illini are also relatively solid on the glass, snapping up 35.1% of available offensive rebounds and 26.7% of available defensive rebounds, and get to the foul line regularly, with a free throw rate of 32.5%. The Tigers will need to be at their best to make up for the size difference.
2. Keep Terrence Shannon Jr. from getting hot. The fifth-year senior who transferred from Texas Tech in the offseason is having a career season, averaging personal bests in nearly every statistical category. Shannon is at his most dangerous of him when his 3-point shots are falling, though he’s a bit of a streaky shooter, sinking 34.8% of his attempts of him. He went 8-9 from beyond the arc in the team’s win against UCLA but shot just 1-5 in a loss to Virginia two days later. He’s hit 20% or lower from distance in all three of the Fighting Illini’s losses. Keeping Shannon out of rhythm will be Missouri’s biggest defensive assignment.
3. Win the turnover battle. Both Illinois and Mizzou rank in the top 40 in the nation in defensive turnover rate, with each squad forcing its opponent to cough the ball up on at least 23% of its possessions. But the Fighting Illini aren’t as good at taking care of the ball themselves, turning it over 20.9% of the time—the Tigers, on the hand, do so on just 17.1% of their possessions. With a game that’s bound to be played at a frenetic tempo with two fast-paced teams, Mizzou likely can’t afford to surrender extra opportunities to Illinois and will need to make the most of the fast break chances it earns.
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