PREVIEW: Illinois vs Missouri

Lead basketball reporter Derek Piper previews the Bud Light Braggin' Rights game between Illinois and Missouri.

Illinois (7-5) vs.

Missouri (5-5)

Date & Time: Dec. 23, 6 p.m. CT

Location: Scottrade Center (St. Louis, Mo.)

TV: ESPN2

Quick Hits

  • Missouri is 5-5 this season with losses to Xavier, Kansas State, Northwestern, Arizona and N.C. State.
  • The Tigers entered the Braggin' Rights game 5-5 last year, and they went on to go 9-23 on the season.
  • Missouri is the 13th youngest D-1 team in college basketball.
  • Seven of the Tigers' top eight scorers are underclassmen.
  • This will be the 35th edition of the Braggin' Rights game, and the Illini are 22-12 during the annual series in St. Louis.
  • Illinois won last season's meeting 62-59 on a buzzer-beater by Rayvonte Rice.
  • Only four active players on the Illini roster have played in the Braggin' Rights game.
  • Illini junior Malcolm Hill was named Big Ten Co-Player of the Week on Monday.

Projected Starters

Khalid Lewis (GR): Lewis has come off the bench the last four games, but he looks to be the best option at point guard right now. Lewis was scoreless against South Dakota on Saturday, but he had six assists and no turnovers in 29 minutes.

Jalen Coleman-Lands (FR): Coleman-Lands is playing with a high level of confidence after finding his outside stroke once again. He tied a career-high with 17 points against South Dakota, and he has hit four threes in each of the last two games.

Kendrick Nunn (JR): Nunn has cooled off a little bit since setting career-highs against Western Carolina and Yale, but he is still producing. He had 10 points, six rebounds and four assists against South Dakota.

Malcolm Hill (JR): Hill is coming off his best showing in an Illini uniform, as he totaled 34 points, 11 rebounds and five assists against South Dakota. He was the first Illinois player to have at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a game since Andy Kauffman in 1990.

Michael Finke (R-FR): Finke has scored in double figures in four of the last five games, and he finished with 13 points and seven rebounds against South Dakota. He continues to score with a high level of efficiency, as he is shooting 56.4 percent from the field.

Bench

Jaylon Tate (JR): Tate has averaged just 12 minutes per game during the last two contests, as Lewis has earned the bulk of the tick. Tate had two points and two assists in 10 minutes against South Dakota.

Maverick Morgan (JR): Morgan has scored at least two buckets in four of the last five games. He finished with four points and three rebounds in 13 minutes against South Dakota.

D.J. Williams (FR): Williams is starting to figure things out down the stretch of nonconference play. He tallied his most minutes of the season (14) on Saturday against South Dakota - finishing with two points and two rebounds.

Aaron Jordan (FR): Jordan had six points in just nine minutes against South Dakota. He is shooting 38.2 percent from three this season.

Alex Austin (R-JR): With the freshmen coming along, Austin has seen his role decrease recently. He played just five minutes against South Dakota - posting three points and one assist.

Cameron Liss (SO): Liss has yet to play this season.

Missouri Starters

Terrance Phillips (FR): Many high-major programs took a pass on Phillips, but he has been very solid through his first 10 games. Phillips is averaging 9.4 points and 2.9 assists per game, while shooting 38.7 percent from deep.

Wes Clark (JR): Clark has not shot the ball particularly well so far this season. He is averaging 7.7 points per game, but he is shooting just 30.4 percent from the field and 29.6 percent from three.

Namon Wright (SO): Wright is an athletic wing with an ability to make plays off the dribble. He is averaging 8.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, but he is shooting just 31.9 percent from the field.

Kevin Puryear (FR): Puryear has been a bright spot for the Tigers during his freshman campaign. He leads the team with 12.1 points per game, while shooting 50.6 percent from the field.

Ryan Rosenburg (SR): Rosenburg is the lone senior on the roster, and he has started six of the Tigers' 10 games. The 6-foot-10 big man is a load at 260 pounds, and he is averaging 3.7 points and 3.9 rebounds per game.

Three Things I'm Looking For

1. Attack off the dribble. The Illini are at their best offensively when they are in attack mode and pushing the ball in transition. They will find success in this game if they penetrate the driving lanes and keep the ball moving. Missouri is not a great defensive team, and they have been exploited when teams attack from the perimeter. They also have a bad habit of fouling and sending guys to the line. Opponents are averaging 27 free throw attempts per game against the Tigers. This has been a key to Hill's offensive success recently. He shot 25 free throws combined over the last two games, and he made 21 of those attempts. Look for more of the same in this matchup.

2. Defend the interior. Much of Illinois' defensive struggles have focused on giving up the three. The Illini are 325th in the country in three-point percentage defense, as they allowed their opponents to shoot 39.3 percent from deep. But a bigger concern recently has been Illinois' interior defense without Mike Thorne Jr. and Leron Black. The Illini have allowed an average of 31 points in the paint over the last six games. South Dakota had 30 points in the paint on Saturday, and many of those came on easy buckets. Missouri is shooting 33.1 percent from long range, and they really like to push the ball in transition. Puryear will be a challenge for the Illini interior, and it will be key for the Orange and Blue to stop Missouri's push on the perimeter.

3. Young guys must step up. Youth is not an excuse against a team that relies on even less experience. The Illini freshmen have made significant strides during the nonconference, and now they have to produce on the big stage of a heated rivalry game. There are no more trial runs with the start of Big Ten play awaiting next week. Finke and Coleman-Lands must provide a reliable scoring punch, and they done that over the last two games. Jordan has the ability to score as well. The Illini have also seen Williams become more comfortable and show value with his effort off the bench. Now, the question becomes whether they can be counted on game in and game out. 

Prediction

This matchup has a different feel than usual, as both programs are down relative to previous years. Wednesday will mark the first time that both teams enter the Braggin' Rights game with five losses. On the bright side, the Illini are currently on a four-game winning streak and they have an opportunity to ride that momentum into the Big Ten opener against Michigan. But winning the border war is not going to come easy. Illinois has more talent in this one, and having Hill and Nunn lead the way should produce a favorable result. The Illini hope that is the case so they can feel good sitting at home on Christmas.

Illinois 75, Missouri 68


Illini Inquirer Top Stories