PREVIEW: Illinois vs. Missouri

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

Illinois (9-3) vs.

Missouri (5-5)

Date & Time: Dec. 21, 6 p.m. CT

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

TV: ESPNU

Quick Hits

  • Illinois is riding a five-game winning streak after beating BYU, and they will look to win six straight for the first time since Nov. 2014.
  • The Illini have won three straight against Missouri, and they are 23-12 all-time heading into the 36th Braggin' Rights game.
  • Illinois is 30-16 overall in their history against Missouri.
  • The last three meetings have been decided by nine points combined.
  • Missouri enters this game following a home loss to Eastern Illinois on Saturday.
  • The Tigers' offensive efficiency rating is the worst among all high-major teams this season.
  • Mizzou is 6-45 against major conference teams since Kim Anderson took over in 2014-15.
  • The Tigers are 10th in effective field goal defense this season.

Projected Starters

Tracy Abrams (GR): Abrams had a team-high 15 points to go along with four assists and four rebounds against BYU. He hit three trey-balls, and he had a huge steal and finish late. The sixth-year senior has made big plays during the winning streak.

Jalen Coleman-Lands (SO): Coleman-Lands had 12 points and five rebounds on Saturday, while hitting four threes. He had a pair of threes in both halves, and he's hit eight threes over the last three games.

Malcolm Hill (SR): Hill was not at his best against BYU, while going just 3-of-12 from the field. But he finished with 10 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals. He will look to go 4-for-4 in this border battle near his hometown.

Leron Black (SO): Black was limited on Saturday with four fouls -- his fourth coming with more than 18 minutes left to play. He finished with four points and four rebounds in 16 minutes.

Mike Thorne Jr. (GR): Thorne had six points and four rebounds in 18 minutes of action against BYU. All three of his field goals came in the first half -- finishing confidently and smoothly around the basket.

Bench

Maverick Morgan (SR): Morgan had his most productive game of the season on Saturday with 14 points and 10 rebounds in 23 minutes. That was the second double-double of his career -- the other one coming at Maryland last March.

Michael Finke (R-SO): Finke got back on track offensively against BYU with a pair of threes, while totaling 10 points, five rebounds and two assists. He was two of his last 16 from the field entering the game. He and Morgan are very important for the Illini off the bench.

Jaylon Tate (SR): Tate played 20 minutes on Saturday and he had five assists, two points and only one turnover. He's had 10 assists and three turnovers in 40 minutes combined during the last two games.

D.J. Williams (SO): Williams had a bucket and a block in five minutes of action against BYU. He has played 30 minutes combined in the last three games, while making 50 percent of his shot attempts.

Kipper Nichols (R-FR): Nichols played for just more than a minute in his collegiate debut, and a foul was all that he entered in the stat book.

Te'Jon Lucas (FR): Lucas did not see the floor for the second straight game.

Aaron Jordan (SO): Like Lucas, Jordan has not played in the last two contests.

Missouri Starters

Terrence Phillips (SO): Phillips is averaging 7.5 points and 4.6 assists per game this season. He had eight points, seven assists and three turnovers against Eastern Illinois. The half-brother of NBA point guard Brandon Jennings was not highly recruited but he is certainly a solid player at the position.

Frankie Hughes (FR): Hughes leads the Tigers with 12.7 points per game. He had a pair of 20-plus outings to open the season, but he had just five points in Saturday's disappointing defeat. He is a high-volume scorer, while shooting more than eight three-point attempts per game.

Cullen VanLeer (SO): VanLeer has played more minutes than anyone on Mizzou (32.4 per game), and he is averaging 7.4 points per game. The 6-foot-4 wing had six points and five rebounds against Eastern Illinois.

Kevin Puryear (SO): Puryear is a productive four-man with some length and physicality around the basket. He is averaging 11.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. He had 22 points and 10 boards against Xavier earlier this season.

Russell Woods (SR): The 6-foot-8 senior from Chicago is averaging 7.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. He had just one rebound in 13 minutes on Saturday to go along with six points.

Three Things I'm Looking For

1. Lock down on D. The Illini are coming off a solid defensive outing, in which they held BYU to 73 points -- a team that was averaging 86 points per game. Now, they are getting ready to play one of the worst offensive teams in college basketball. Missouri is 304th in offensive efficiency, 312th in effective field goal percentage and 341st in three-point percentage (27.5 percent). They scored 64 points in their loss to Eastern Illinois, while going 3-of-18 from three. They scored 60 points against Arizona. They scored 55 and 52 in losses to Davidson and North Carolina Central respectively. This is a bad basketball team. The Illini defense needs to establish as much consistency as possible in their final game before Big Ten play.

2. Focus on the frontcourt. There is an advantage to be had with Illinois' big men at the offensive end -- one that many teams should not be able to match. Even with a future NBA post player, BYU could not stop Illinois' interior attack for most of the first half. The Illini had 22 points in the paint at halftime, and it was one of the best collective performances from the frontcourt that John Groce has seen all season. However, BYU's zone gave the Orange and Blue fits in the second half and that kept the ball on the perimeter. Illinois has to be able to get the ball inside regardless of the defensive set. This is a perfect opportunity for that. Mizzou's starting five-man is 6-foot-8, and only one player in their nine-man rotation is 6-foot-10. Post touches should be at a premium. 

3. Close it down. Illinois held a 16-point lead in the first half against BYU, but they let the Cougars back in the game quickly after a dysfunctional five-minute stretch before halftime. And when the Illini could have iced the game away at the end, Hill missed a free throw and let BYU have a shot at the win. In the game prior to that, Illinois had a 26-point lead with less than 14 minutes to play against Central Michigan. But instead of keeping a comfortable distance and getting to go to the bench, Illinois let the Chippewas cut the deficit to 14 with more than four minutes left. And last year in this matchup, the Illini were up 20 early in the second half. But that lead was down to three with more than a minute to go. Illinois has the talent advantage to get up relatively big and they shouldn't look back.

Prediction

Rivalry games can bring out some unpredictable results. Both teams will play with a high level of effort and energy. You can expect Mizzou's best shot. The Tigers have some good defensive numbers, but the Illini should mop up this mess of a program. This rivalry hasn't been one for blowouts recently, but Illinois will win by double digits.

Illinois 74, Missouri 60


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