The Illini (8-3) and the Tigers (10-1) are coming into the Braggin’ Rights game with something to prove, as the Tigers suffered a 28-point loss to the Kansas Jayhawks and the Illini a listless loss at home to Penn State.
While the Illini came away with a 25-point win in last year’s matchup, a great deal has changed for both sides.
The Illini lost almost 86% of last year’s scoring and have one of the youngest teams in the Big Ten, while Missouri fired coach Cuonzo Martin and brought in Cleveland State’s Dennis Gates as his replacement. Roster turnover has ensued for the Tigers as well, bringing in 10 new players and returning only three from last year’s team. The new team dynamic on both sides, combined with the back and forth nature of the matchup and roster intrigue in recent years (shoutout to former Illini players/recruiting commits turned Tigers Mark Smith, Javon Pickett, and Jeremiah Tilmon), should keep the matchup lively and interesting.
Let’s dive into what to look out for in this year’s matchup.
New Missouri coach Dennis Gates has brought some talented scorers with him, including leading scorer and Cleveland State transfer D’Moi Hodge (16.4 ppg, 42% 3pt) and Clemson transfer Nick Honor (11 ppg, 47% 3pt).
The Tigers bring in a potent offensive attack. They shoot the three well (36% as a team). They turn you over leading the nation in steals per game (13.2) and coming in third in turnover margin (7.9). They get out in transition ranking third in transition points per game (21), helping them reach third in scoring (90.4 ppg).
They’re sharing the ball well ranking fourth in assists (20.2 apg) as well, so the Tigers like to play a similarly defense first, fast paced style to the Illini. The bench for the Tigers is long with nine players averaging double-digit minutes, so the pace of play may not wear down the Tigers as the game wears on.
What The Illini Need to Win
Unlike the Penn State debacle, the Illini are going to be challenged by the strong perimeter shooting from the Tigers and will have to be locked in on that end of the floor to hold down that offensive fire power and keep themselves in the game.
The speed and length the Illini possess should be a strong counter to that Missouri attack, but execution and discipline on that end will be key areas to watch. Winning the transition game and turnover margin will be key in this one, as both sides set up their offense with strong defensive leading to easy transition opportunities.
Brad Underwood and his staff need to emphasize valuing possessions and decision making to prevent the Tigers from getting out in space and running wild on the Illini. If the Illini communicate well defensively on their switches and are able to run Missouri’s shooters off the three point line, they stand a good chance to make the Tigers work harder on the offensive end and force mistakes that they can exploit for easy baskets.
As is often the case with this young, inexperienced Illini team, running consistent sets offensively and being locked in defensively (close outs, rebounding, help side defense, pick and roll coverage) have been points of concern throughout the year so far, and they will need to bring their best effort to bring home the Braggin Rights again this year.
Given the wake up call they received after the Penn State game and a sleepy performance against Alabama A&M, the Tigers should have the Illini’s full attention if they want to get back to their winning ways and build upon their impressive win over Texas.