Basketball Preview: Braggin' Rights Tonight

The Missouri basketball team tips off against the Fighting Illini of Illinois in the annual Bragging Rights game

On Wednesday night (8:00 P.M., ESPN2), at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, the #9 Missouri Tigers (10-1) take on the #21 Illinois Fighting Illini (10-2) in the annual Busch Braggin' Rights Game. Illinois is coming off of a 57-54 loss to Illinois-Chicago.

In addition to losing the game against Illinois-Chicago, it appears that Coach Weber's Illini have also lost 6'4" sophomore G Brandon Paul (8.7 points/game) to a sprained ankle. Paul is Illinois' number three guard, and will be missed going up against Missouri's pressure defense.

Illinois usually starts three players who are 6'9" or taller, in 6'9" senior F Mike Davis (10.3 points/game, 6.6 rebounds/game), 6'9" senior F Bill Cole (4.8 points/game, 2.3 rebounds/game), and 7'1" senior C Mike Tisdale (10.3 points/game, 7 rebounds/game).

The Illini's top two scorers are their starting guards, 6'3" senior G Demetri McCamey (15.8 points/game, 3.5 rebounds/game, 7.2 assists/game, 2.9 A/T ratio) and 6'3" sophomore G D.J. Richardson (12 points/game, 2.2 assists/game, 1.6 A/T ratio). McCamey (51% 3-PT FG%) and Richardson (46% 3-PT FG%) are Illinois' top 3-PT shooters, and primary ball handlers. And, they usually play a lot of minutes, each averaging over 30 minutes/game. The two starting guards have accounted for 53% of Illinois' 3-PT FGAs, and for 63% of Illinois' made 3-PT shots.

The Illini have depth, in 6'8" sophomore F Tyler Griffey, and a handful of freshmen, led by 6'7" G/F Jereme Richmond (7.8 points/game, 4.8 rebounds/game), and including 7'0" C Meyers Leonard. Richmond has been averaging over 21 minutes/game, functioning as the Illini's 6th man, and Griffey and Leonard are each averaging about 10 minutes/game.

In Paul's absence, Coach Weber may have to turn to a pair of little used freshmen guards, in 6'5" Joseph Bertrand, or 6'4" Crandall Head.

For all of Illinois' size, they are barely outrebounding their opponents, but they have done a good job of taking care of the basketball, with McCamey, Richardson, and the doubtful Paul, doing most of the ball-handling. Richmond's points have all come on the inside, and he's somewhat prone to turnovers. Tisdale (39% 3-PT FG%) and Cole (34% 3-PT FG%) will both step out beyond the arc, and shoot well enough that they have to be respected out there. Cole has a 3.8 A/T ratio.

Missouri's Coach Anderson talked about playing a big, powerful Illinois team.

"This game will test us," said Coach Anderson. "They are very deep, a senior-oriented team. They're a very good basketball team. We have our work cut out for us."

For Missouri, the first assignment is to figure out who will be available. Matt Pressey is practicing, and will be available in the back court. Phil Pressey fractured a bone in his hand on Sunday, and will be out for at least a couple of weeks. It sounds as if Michael Dixon will be available for Missouri against Illinois, after serving a suspension.

Missouri will rely on junior guards, Marcus Denmon (16.8 points/game, 4.1 rebounds/game, 48% 3-PT FG%), who is the Tigers' leading scorer, and Kim English (11.2 points/game). Statistically, English has turned his season around. He has raised his 3-PT FG% to nearly 40%, a respectable figure, and now has more assists than turnovers, for maybe the first time in his Missouri career. If Dixon is available, he gives the Tigers a fifth player with a double-digit scoring average (10.7 points/game, 3.9 assists/game, 2.6 A/T ratio.), and perhaps more importantly, will help to push the pace.

On the inside, Missouri relies on juniors Ricardo Ratliffe (12.3 points/game, 7.5 rebounds/game), and Laurence Bowers (11.9 points/game, 5.9 rebounds/game, 2.6 blocks/game). And, off the bench for Missouri is senior Justin Safford (7.4 points/game, 3.9 rebounds/game), juniors Steve Moore (1.6 blocks/game) and Matt Pressey (6.1 points/game), and freshman Ricky Kreklow (53% 3-PT FG%).

As is usually the case for the Tigers, the pace of the game will be critical to their success against the Illini. Missouri needs to run Illinois' big men, and their outside shooters, up and down the floor.

Comparative Statistics

Missouri Illinois

FGM: 347 347

FGA: 721 732

FG %: .481 .474

3pt FGM: 87 89

3pt FGA: 223 219

3FG %: .390 .406

FTM: 164 146

FTA: 226 210

FT % .726 .695

Points: 945 929

Per Game: 85.9 77.4

Reb./Gm 36.2 35.8

Steals 10.4 7.3

Assists: 18.4 17.3

Blocks: 5.5 5.5

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