Bruce Weber's Illini come into this annual showdown with a talented squad that just fell from the ranks of the undefeated over the weekend, losing 48-64 to UNLV at the United Center in Chicago. Illinois got back into the win column on Monday, with a 64-60 home win over Cornell.
Coach Weber has four players averaging in double figures in scoring, led by 6'3" junior guard D.J. Richardson's 14.4 points/game. Richardson is Illinois' primary 3-PT threat, as he leads the Illini in 3-PT FG percentage (43% 3-PT FG%), as well as with his seven 3-PT FGAs/game. The Illini have great size in the middle in 7'1" 245 pound sophomore center Myers Leonard, who is considered an NBA Draft lottery pick, and who is averaging 13.3 points/game, and 7.8 rebounds/game. Leonard is shooting 64% from the field, and is averaging 2.4 blocks/game.
Coach Weber's point guard is former Missouri Valley Conference star, 6'0" Sam Maniscalco, who is playing his final season of college basketball at Illinois, after graduating from Bradley in May. The experienced grad student is averaging 10.9 points/game, 3 assists/game, and has a 2.1 assist/turnover ratio. Only Richardson has taken more 3-PT shots for Illinois, or makes a higher percentage of them, although Maniscalco is shooting just 32% from behind the arc.
The Illini's fourth-leading scorer is 6'4" junior guard Brandon Paul, with his 10.7 points/game. Paul has taken almost four 3-PT shots/game, but he's hitting just 24% from beyond the arc. Paul is considered Illinois' best perimeter defender, and he also leads Illinois with 1.3 steals/game.
The Braggin' Rights Game is a holiday homecoming for 6'8" junior forward Tyler Griffey, who grew up in Wildwood, MO, a western suburb of St. Louis. Griffey was a frequent visitor to Mizzou Arena during his prep years, as he camped at, and was recruited by, Missouri. Griffey is scoring 7.4 points/game, and is Illinois' second-leading board man, at 4.9 rebounds/game.
Illinois starting line-up - Based on the most recent game
Pos. No. Name HT WT YR P/G R/G A/G S/G Hometown
F 42 Tyler Gri?ey 6-8 230 Jr. 7.4 4.9 0.7 0.5 Wildwood, Mo.
C 12 Meyers Leonard 7-1 245 So. 13.3 7.8 1.3 0.4 Robinson, Ill.
G 00 Sam Maniscalco 6-0 180 Gr. 10.9 2.5 3.0 0.9 Chicago, Ill.
G 01 D.J. Richardson 6-3 195 Jr. 14.4 3.0 1.8 0.9 Peoria, Ill.
G 03 Brandon Paul 6-4 200 Jr. 10.7 3.9 3.2 1.3 Gurnee, Ill.
The Illini go about 8-10 deep, but they don't really get a lot of production from their bench. Coach Weber's sixth man is 6'1" freshman guard Tracy Abrams, who scores just 2.6 points/game, and has a 1.1 assist/turnover ratio, while handing out 1.5 assist/game. A 6'5" sophomore guard, Joseph Bertrand, and a 6'4" sophomore guard, Crandall Head, are the next guys in, along with 6'11" 245 pound freshman center, Nnanna Egwu and 6'8" freshman forward Mike Shaw. Again, these players provide little production. They're in there primarily to give the starters a blow.
Normally a pretty good ball-handling team, the Illini may struggle, as has everyone else, with taking care of the basketball against Missouri's defensive pressure. This could force Coach Weber to shorten his bench rather than attempt to rely on the inexperienced Egwu and Shaw. In fact, I think there's a possibility that Coach Weber may have to shorten his bench considerably in this match-up, and at times, we may see the Illini playing with four guards.
The presence of Meyers Leonard gives the Illini a decided height advantage over Missouri, although beyond Leonard, Illinois' size advantage isn't likely to be much of a factor.
Despite their relative lack of outside shooting, the Illini have shot the ball well from the field, with a team-wide 45% FG percentage. They're a good FT shooting team (73%), as well.
Illinois has held their opponents to under 39% from the field, and have out-rebounded their opponents by a 5.3 rebound/game margin.
Missouri leads the nation in scoring margin, at 27.7 points/game, and with a 1.84 assist/turnover ratio. In addition, the Tigers are the second-highest scoring team in the nation (87.9), and rank third nationally in field goal percentage (52.6%), turnover margin (7.4), and fewest personal fouls/game (13). Missouri's 10.3 steals/game and 77.9% FT percentage each rank seventh nationally.
Coach Frank Haith's team features four double-digit scorers as well, led by returning First-Team All-Big 12 performer, 6'3" guard Marcus Denmon, who averages 19.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. Denmon is shooting 53% from the field, 46% from behind the arc, and 92% at the FT line, and has an outstanding 4.2 assist/turnover ratio. After a summer spent playing for Team USA in the World University Games, Denmon is playing like an All-American.
The emergence of 6'2" senior guard Matt Pressey as Missouri's designated defender has taken some of the work load off of Denmon, who was outstanding in that role a season ago. Matt Pressey has also elevated his overall game this season, and is scoring 8.3 points/game, grabbing 4.5 rebounds/game, and is handing out 2.1 assists/game, with a 2.9 assist/turnover ratio.
At the point guard position for Missouri, 5'10" Phil Pressey is rapidly developing into one of the nation's best. He's equally effective on either end of the floor. The sophomore is scoring just 8.6 points/game, but he is handing out dimes like Halloween candy, with 6 assists/game and a 3.3 assist/turnover ratio. He's also collecting 2.3 steals/game.
Coming off of the bench for Missouri, 6'1" junior guard Mike Dixon gives the Tigers a fourth member of their outstanding back court.
That's four terrific defenders to harass opponents, and four players with a collective 2.9 assist/turnover ratio! Dixon is scoring 12.6 points/game, and is averaging 3.2 assists/game, and 2.3 steals/game.
These four guards are rarely on the floor together, but they all play starter minutes, and they combine to form an extremely formidable rotation that represents a match-up nightmare for opponents.
The man in the middle for Missouri is 6'8" 240 pound senior Ricardo Ratliffe, who is scoring 14.3 points/game, and grabbing 7.2 rebounds/game. Ratliffe's making 77% of his field goal attempts, which ranks second nationally. Ratliffe has really raised his game under first-year coach Frank Haith and his staff. He'll face his biggest challenge of the season to date, in Leonard. That's a match-up that will go a long way in determining which side of the Mississippi River will have the bragging rights this Christmas.
Also up front for Missouri, is 6'6" senior Kim English, who is scoring 16 points/game, and grabbing 4 rebounds/game. English is making 53% of his 3-PT FGAs. His match-up with Griffey will be telling, as well.
Missouri starters - Based on the most recent game
Pos. No. Name HT WT YR P/G R/G A/G S/G Hometown
F 10 Ricardo Ratli?e 6-8 240 Sr. 14.3 7.2 0.6 0.7 Hampton, Va.
G 12 Marcus Denmon 6-3 185 Sr. 19.6 5.3 1.9 1.5 Kansas City, Mo.
G 24 Kim English 6-6 200 Sr. 16.0 4.0 2.0 1.4 Baltimore, Md.
G 03 Matt Pressey 6-2 195 Sr. 8.3 4.5 2.1 0.8 Dallas, Texas
G 01 Phil Pressey 5-10 175 So. 8.6 3.3 6.0 2.3 Dallas, Texas
Also off of the bench for Missouri is 6'9" senior Steve Moore, who spells Ratliffe, as well as English. Big Steve, and fellow reserve, 6'8" RSF Kadeem Green, provide valuable minutes up front for an undersized Missouri squad.
When asked about the Braggin' Rights match-up, Coach Haith said, "It's going to be a great one."
Record: 11-0 11-1
FGM: 338 297
FGA: 642 668
FG %: .526 .445
3pt FGM: 94 77
3pt FGA: 253 237
3FG %: .407 .325
FTM: 197 157
FTA: 253 215
FT % .779 .730
Points: 967 828
Per Game: 87.9 69.0
Reb./Gm 35.7 35.6
Steals 10.3 6.1
Assists: 17.3 14.2
Blocks: 3.1 5.2