|Who:||Missouri Tigers vs. Illinois Fighting Illini|
|When:||Saturday Dec 20, 2 p.m. ET|
|Where:||Scottrade Center, St. Louis, MO|
|KenPom Rank:||Missouri - 159; Illinois - 38|
|KenPom Line:||Illinois -9|
I know I have a little favoritism for this game and the best game of the week will more than likely be in Chicago with No. 12 Ohio State and No. 24 North Carolina, but in an era when we have so much difficulty identifying which conference half of the schools play in, this game still brings a little something more to the table. 20,000+ fans pour into the Scottrade Center split right down the middle with one side filled with black and gold and the other navy blue and orange. Pick a side of the Mississippi River and watch one of the best examples of a grind-it-out college basketball game. And since the Tigers opted for the SEC instead of the Big Ten and the two schools don't play in football anymore, this game has become even more heated over the last couple years.
As an Illinois native, I'm still not at ease the fact these teams don't play in football anymore and I've always been on the orange and blue side of this game. It would be great to see Missouri in the Big Ten like I thought was going to happen back in 2010, but the people that switch the 'ss' with 'zz' to sound cool obviously made the best choice for their entire athletic program.
Not exactly the way I envisioned starting this piece, but how was I suppose to know Iowa State's shooting would be as hot as Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman in Black Swan? 12 of 27 shooting from beyond the arc is incredibly tough to do against Iowa in Carver-Hawkeye, but the Clones took the fight to the Hawks from the beginning.
I know it's redundant to say watch out for a team if this team makes shots, but Iowa State can let it fly as good as anyone in the country. And they did this performance with arguably their best guard, Bryce Dejean "Mustard"-Jones.
Chalk me up for 0-1 on the young season.
Tale of the Tape
It's been tough sledding for the first year head coach Kim Anderson in Columbia. Missouri's five losses outside of UMKC to start the year have all been respectable defeats. Arizona, Purdue, Oklahoma and Xavier have all had the upper hand on the TIgers and that makes this game even more important heading into SEC play. Four-star recruit JaKeenan Gant was cleared by the NCAA before the Xavier game and came off the bench to contribute 13 points. Gant is a little thin for the four spot, but he shows a lot of Bobby Portis in his game with the ability to help defend the paint and run the floor with the guards in transition.
There's still a lot of improvement to do for this young TIgers team, which includes only four upper classmen on the roster. This is a pivotal season to lay the ground work for Anderson & Co. especially with the top recruit in the 2016 class, Jayson Tatum, who just so happens to play at the Chaminade College Prep School in St. Louis.
Player to keep an eye on: Sophomore forward Johnathan Williams III (12.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg)
Williams is a game changer and has All-SEC potential inside. We're going to see how well he can defend the perimeter because he'll more than likely be matched up with sophomore forward Malcolm Hill from the Illini. He'll have a bit of a size advantage down low on offense and sets the tone for this team on the glass. Williams will need another performance like he had against Xavier a couple days ago, posting 17 points and nine boards. He's got to hold the paint down for the TIgers to stand a chance.
After looking like a potential Sweet 16 team in the first six games of the year, the Illini have dropped three of their last four contests. Transfers Aaron Cosby and Ahmad Starks have been wildly inconsistent on the offensive end during the last four games. The void left by senior guard Tracy Abrams' injury seems to be insurmountable at the moment and until someone takes control as a vocal leader, this team could be in some trouble when Big Ten season comes around. Hill and star senior guard Rayvonte Rice and are the consistent scorers and will need someone to jump on board in a hurry.
After the way sophomore guard Kendrick Nunn came along at the end of last year, including squaring off with D.J. Newbill, one can only imagine when he gets plugged back into the starting lineup. Offseason leg surgery delayed his season for a brief period, but he seems to be back at 100 percent in the last couple of appearances.
Player to keep an eye on: Sophomore guard Jaylon Tate (2.7 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 3.0 apg)
With Abrams out for the year, everyone expected Tate's playing time to increase, but how would he produce? He averages about the same amount of assists as team leader Ahmad Starks (3.7 apg) despite playing less than six minutes per game. He's certainly not the best defender at the moment or as good of an outside shooter as Starks is, but maybe it's time to hand the keys over to someone else during this rough patch for the Illini.
PREDICTION: Illinois 62, Missouri 57
No matter how good or bad either of these teams are coming into this game, it ALWAYS ends up being a rock fight as Pat Chambers would describe it. I think Illinois is 8-10 points better than Missouri, but you can throw that out for a rivalry game of this magnitude. Despite getting a little off track against Miami (FL), Villanova and Oregon, Illinois has done a good job of taking care of business against inferior opponents this year. Expect a big game from Rayvonte Rice. It's the last time around the block for Rice to make a statement in the Braggin' Rights.
Other games to watch for this week:
- Eastern Michigan at 25) Michigan State
- 12) Ohio State vs. 24) North Carolina (United Center - Chicago)
- Butler vs. Indiana (Bankers Life Fieldhouse - Indianapolis)
- SMU at Michigan
- 21) Notre Dame vs. Purdue (Bankers Life Fieldhouse - Indianapolis)
- Northern Iowa at Iowa