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Fighting Illini Men’s Basketball Scouting Report: Missouri Tigers

This could be one of the most exciting games of the season.

NCAA Basketball: Miami (OH) at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Ah, yes. The annual Bud Light™️ Braggin’ Rights Game! (Just like how we’ve always referred to it.) Before I get to a bit of a scouting report, there are three things I would like to remind all you Illini fans of:

  1. As a great fan once shouted in the Scottrade Center, “There’s no (expletive) ‘z’ in Missouri!”
  2. Jeremiah Tilmon wouldn’t have fit Underwood’s system (lol)
  3. Cuonzo still wishes he had Mark Smith right now

Anyways, why we’re really here: this could be one of the most exciting games of the year. Illinois has been somewhat of a disappointment so far at 8-5, not because of their inability to score or take the ball away, but rather the manner in which they have lost each of those five games. Most fans would agree that all of them were winnable. Missouri will present Illinois’ greatest challenge yet.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Season Recap

Missouri (10-2) has, to the dismay of Illini fans, had a pretty successful season thus far. Perhaps the best win the Tigers have include a season-opening victory against Iowa State, by a final of 74-59. They do have a few close calls as well. Missouri only beat Emporia State (that’s in Kansas, don’t bother Googling it) by five on Nov. 20 and Stephen F. Austin (who was its old coach again?) by one just this week.

Missouri’s only two losses on the year were to Utah on Nov. 16 and to West Virginia on Nov. 26. The Utah loss was simply a bad game — the Tigers shot just 5-of-27 from three-point range for the game. Tilmon had no field goals and two points. The West Virginia game, on the other hand, was much more enjoyable for me to watch. Missouri had a sizable lead but completely fell apart to Bob Huggins’ full-court press. The Tigers, while nearly as young as the Illini, didn’t have a clue how to deal with pressure from the Mountaineers, and they lost that game 84-79.

Still, a 10-2 record is not all that bad. I wouldn’t really consider either loss to be particularly horrible, although each of them were bad losses in their own right. So far, I think Missouri fans are probably pleased with what Cuonzo has done.

Key Losses and Additions

Missouri lost six players from last year’s team that finished 8-24 under Kim Anderson. Four of those players transferred to other schools (notably Ball State and Duquense, if that tells you anything) and two graduated. I think the additions to this team are a little bit more relevant.

If you’re an Illini fan, I don’t need to really get into the Jeremiah Tilmon saga. We went through it, and that’s that.

The other key additions Cuonzo has had were also freshman signees: Michael Porter Jr. and Jontay Porter, both from Nathan Hales High School in Washington and both 5-star recruits. Although Porter Jr. is out for the season with a back injury, Jontay Porter looks like he will have quite a bit of success at Missouri this year.

Additionally, Kassius Robertson was added as a graduate transfer. He is leading the team in minutes (32.1 per game) and points (14.5 per game).

Star Watch

I think a lot of people might have expected Jeremiah Tilmon’s name here, and I have to admit I think there’s a legitimate chance he has a good game. With Finke as the only one on Illinois who is anywhere close to matching Tilmon’s size, and his defensive capabilities, I’m sure Tilmon could have a good scoring day. But he is also prone to get into foul trouble, and the Illini are good at drawing fouls.

I think 6-foot-7 senior Jordan Barnett has a chance to really make an stamp on the game. Leron Black will be tasked with guarding him, and he just recently sat out the second half of the UNLV game with an injury. That being said, he had an excellent showing against New Mexico State, but if he isn’t playing a majority of minutes defending Barnett, the Illini might be exposed a bit.

Barnett has also showed up in big games for the Tigers this year. He had 15 against Iowa State, 19 against St. John’s, 21 against West Virginia and 22 against Stephen F. Austin. Barnett also shoots nearly 40 percent from beyond-the-arc.

With a sold out crowd, I’m sure he’ll be looking to lead the Tigers to a Braggin’ Rights victory for the first time since 2012.

The Illini are hoping they don’t see a lot of this on Saturday from Jordan Barnett.

Prediction

I think this game goes the Tigers’ way. Without a true big man to match up against Tilmon in the post, I can see Barnett getting open looks and Finke and Black getting into foul trouble.

Just as he continually does, Underwood will make his guys fight. I just don’t see the young core of players being able to overcome Missouri, even without Michael Porter, Jr.

Missouri 90, Illinois 87