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NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Missouri Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

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All I want for Christmas is Illinois to win Braggin’ Rights

Bring the trophy home, where it belongs.

Every year I circle a few dates on my calendar in January.

Before we dive in to the specifics, I want to make one thing perfectly clear:

I hate Missouri. Not just the basketball team and university, but the state in its entirety.

We’ll get into why Illinois is going to dismantle Missouri this year, in a bit.

My prediction: Illinois, 83-70.

The arrogance to change the state’s very name and give it a shortened nickname is disrespectful. Missouri is three syllables, Mizzou is two. What are we really doing.

But, I digress. Back to important dates.

My wife’s birthday, my daughter’s birthday, the annual trip to Oaklawn Racecourse in Hot Springs (stories unsuitable for print) and other miscellaneous birthdays and anniversaries all get a red circle on the thoroughbred calendar my Grandma gets me every January.

NCAA Basketball: Colgate at Illinois
Underwood having patience with his team in a recent win at home against Colgate. BU is in the Christmas spirit of giving, patience, kindness and understanding.
Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The family golf outing in late summer/early fall gets a circle when it’s announced, which is typically well in advance. Next year, we play the Stadium Course and I get to birdie Hole 17 in Jacksonville. Can’t wait.

Here’s a date I had circled many moons ago: Dec. 22, 2022.

It did not go well, to say the least. Factually, it was embarrassing all-the-way around. The Illini were down 24 points. At half. Twenty. Four. Points.

Mizzou shot 50% from three (10/20) and 59.3% (35/59) from the floor. Future first-round pick Kobe Brown torched Illinois from all over the court, finishing with 31 points.

This was the Skyy Clark isn’t necessarily going to work out game and everyone knows it. No one realized that this would be the last time he suited up for Illinois.

Largest margin of victory in the series for Missouri: 22 points (2022)

Here’s a visual snapshot of that experience.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Missouri
As fitting a picture as I could find of BR2023. Illinois and Underwood were utterly embarrassed by the Tigers in the STL last year, 93-71. And, it wasn’t that close.
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Dec. 22, 2023 has been circled on my calendar the day I found out when the game was scheduled. You’ll notice, that is today’s very date.

Exactly one year since The Debacle of 2022.

Today is the annual Braggin’ Rights game between Your Fighting Illini and Those Missouri Tigers.

I’ve been watching this game as long as I can remember, and even longer than that.

The first game that I can really remember, that sticks in my craw to this day, is the 1993 triple-OT thriller, complete with Kiwane Garris missing two free throws with no time on the clock and the game tied at the end of the first OT.

Kiwane Garris playing for Illinois. Sick unis.

For reference, Garris shot 80.3% from the line year, as a freshman. In his career, Garris was 83.0% and shot 86.2% as a junior.

Today, I will be going to my 20th Braggin’ Rights game in person. This should be a joyous endeavor. It’s Christmas time. Friday night tip at 8pm local.

Illinois (-6.5) looks to right some wrongs from Ghost of Braggin’ Rights Recent Past, with Missouri going 4-1 in the previous five contests.

Before I break down the matchup in 2023, let’s take a look a the history of the series. It goes back...a while.

Here are some Fun Facts about Braggin’ Rights.

Although the game was not played in 1982, it has been played every year since 1976. The venue permanently switched to St. Louis, MO, in 1980.

The first game was played December 21, 1932. Illinois blew out Missouri in the game, 36-24.

A breakdown of the outcomes of the games:

  • Overall series record: Illinois, 33-20 (.623)
  • Longest winning streak: 9 (Illinois, 2000-2008)
  • Largest margin of victory: 32 (Illinois, 2005
  • Last 5 meetings: Missouri leads, 4-1
  • Last 10 meetings: Illinois leads, 6-4
  • John Groce: 5-0
2014: Rayvonte Rice bangs a buzzer beater to beat Missouri. I was courtside for that game.
bustingbrackets.com

One more fun fact before we break this thing down: Braggin’ Rights has not gone back-and-forth four-consecutive years since 1979-83 (no game in 1982). Since 1983, the team that has won the game has won at least two in a row.

Let’s breakdown the 2023 game. The spread is curious, given the analytics. Of course, I’ll use KenPom for all of my statistical analysis.

In every conceivable way, Illinois has a distinct advantage in this contest. Size, strength, experience, athleticism, depth, skill.

Any way you slice it, Illinois looks better on paper.

Games are not played on paper, however. Here’s what the sheet tells us.

Net expected margin is margin of victory over the average division one team. Lower is better for defensive efficiency (point prevention) and higher is better for offensive efficiency (point production).

Illinois (Missouri):

  • Net Expected Margin: +21.82 (+9.24) - Illini 12.58 points better
  • Defensive Efficiency: 93.0 (101.4) - Illini 8.4 points better
  • Offensive Efficiency: 114.8 (110.6) - Illini 4.2 points better

In short, Illinois has a substantially better defense (8.3% better) and a somewhat better offense (3.8%).

Overall in KenPom: No. 16 Illinois, No. 82 Missouri

NCAA Basketball: Colgate at Illinois
TSJ has no equal in this game, or most others. One team has him, and that is Illinois.
Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri is one spot ahead of Indiana and three spots ahead of Minnesota. Keep that in your mind for reference. This game is not a layup.

Mississippi (11-0) is No. 25 in the current AP Poll. Ole Miss is ranked one spot BEHIND Missouri.

Missouri has slowed the pace considerably this year, ranking a mere 252nd (67.6) in pace of play this season. Last year, Missouri ranked 102nd (68.7) in pace of play.

That’s only one possession, but that illustrates how much faster the pace has become overall in 2023.

NCAA Basketball: Colgate at Illinois
The Illini point guard, Ty Rodgers, will be a huge factor in this game. Missouri loves to press man-to-man and run-and-jump. The guards will be tested.
Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

On the other hand, Illinois is now 59th (71.6) this year, versus 58th (69.5) last year. Same rank, faster pace. If Illinois chooses to play any faster than the current pace, the turnover rate will balloon and it puts more pressure on their elite defense.

If Underwood can sneak the pace up over the course of the game, Illinois will likely have a distinct advantage.

Dennis Gates and Missouri want the pace to crawl. Less talent and skill equals slower pace.

Illinois has a distinct size and athleticism advantage, nearly across the board. Missouri plays aggressively on defense to combat lack of size.

Missouri is playing up-the-line, meaning that trying to contest every catch, even most of them that are thrown away from the bucket. As a result, Missouri is 35th in steal percentage (12.5%).

Mizzou is also fifth in blocked shots, at an astounding 17.1% on the year.

Despite these impressive metrics, their overall lack of size rears its ugly head in defensive rebounding.

Missouri is ranked 317th in defensive rebounding. They allow opponents to get an astounding 33.9% of their shot attempts back.

Illinois ranks 43rd in offensive rebounding, at 35.2% on the year. Expect Illinois to have late Thanksgiving feast on the offensive glass. This is the biggest advantage of the contest.

This is why despite many great individual metrics, their overall defensive efficiency is bad, ranked 116th.

Illinois is nearly the exact opposite of Missouri on defense. The Illini force essentially no turnovers (352nd in steals) and are about average blocking shots. They do not contest passes.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Rutgers
Coleman Hawkins takes a charge against Rutgers. He’s the X Factor that makes this defense go.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The game plan for Underwood & Co. is to force you to take contested, long two point attempts. Over time, the quality of your shots will diminish, and the amount of shots made will not be sustainable.

Illinois is No. 2 overall in 2P% on defense at a staggering 40.4%. Houston is NO. 1 at 40.2%.

Missouri has no answer, either figuratively...or literally for Terrence Shannon, Jr. on defense.

I expect Shannon to get to 30 points in this contest, with nearly half of them from the free throw line. He’s going to get to the front of of the rim at will.

If Missouri has Aidan Shaw guard TSJ, it will not go well.

Missouri has tiny guards, Sean East at 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds, and Nick Honor at 5-foot-10 and 200.

NCAA Basketball: Colgate at Illinois
Lots of looks at the bucket for Illinois against Missouri. Here’s Domask with one against Colgate.
Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Expect senior Marcus Domask to have a field day in the paint, a la Florida Atlantic. Quincy Guerrier will have an advantage over whoever guards him.

Underwood can get back to playing the matchups.

Please take The Scientific Poll.

Poll

How much will Illinois beat Missouri by in 2023?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    They will lose.
    (4 votes)
  • 2%
    3 points or less
    (3 votes)
  • 25%
    4-8 points
    (29 votes)
  • 40%
    9-15 points
    (47 votes)
  • 28%
    Illinois by a million
    (33 votes)
116 votes total Vote Now

This is getting even. This is an Illinois Braggin’ Rights win. This is me hating Missouri.

This is Illinois basketball.