(12) Missouri (9-1) vs. (10) Illinois (12-0)
Saturday, December 22, 6 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Scott Haynes, College Basketball Senior Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: Scottrade Center (22,153) -- St. Louis, Missouri. Television: ESPN2. Home Record: Missouri 7-0, Illinois 7-0. Away Record: Missouri 0-0, Illinois 2-0. Neutral Record: Missouri 2-1, Illinois 3-0. Conference Record: Missouri 0-0, Illinois 0-0. Series Record: Illinois leads, 27-15.
GAME NOTES: The 32nd annual Braggin' Rights game is set for Saturday evening in Kansas City, as rivals Missouri and Illinois collide at the Scottrade Center in a battle of top-25 foes.
The 12th-ranked Tigers have won nine of their first 10 games this season, with the lone loss coming against Louisville back on Nov. 23. Since then, Frank Haith's squad has reeled off five straight victories, including a 102-51 whipping of South Carolina State on Monday.
John Groce's first season in Champaign couldn't have started any better. The Illini are one of just eight teams left in the nation that have yet to lose. Illinois moved to 12-0 on the season with Sunday's 66-53 victory over Eastern Kentucky.
Illinois holds a 27-15 advantage in the all-time series and a 20-11 edge in games played in St. Louis. However, it is Missouri that has claimed victory in the last three meetings, including a 78-74 decision in last year's matchup.
Missouri made light work of South Carolina State, posting its highest scoring total of the season, as the Tigers delivered on 56.9 percent from the floor overall. The team's shooting performance was even more impressive considering Missouri went just 6-of-27 from 3-point range (.222). Five Tigers notched double figures in the lopsided win, led by Earnest Ross' 16 points. Jabari Brown and Keion Bell netted 12 points each, while Stefan Jankovic and Laurence Bowers tacked on 11 points apiece. Alex Oriakhi put up nine points, while grabbing 11 rebounds.
Missouri has thrived on the offensive end this season, averaging 77.8 ppg, on .455 shooting. Dominating on the boards has also been a strength, boasting of a +13.3 rebounding margin. Bowers has returned this season from a lost 2011-12 due to injury, and been a dominant frontcourt presence, converting 58.6 percent of his shots, en route to a team-high 16.3 ppg. Phil Pressey runs the offense to near perfection and can create shots for himself (12.3 ppg) and others (5.8 apg). Oriakhi adds 10.6 ppg to the cause and is the team's top rebounder (8.6 rpg).
The Illini have had no problem generating offense either, as the team is netting 76.9 ppg on the year. In addition to a +14.3 scoring margin, Illinois is also enjoying advantages on the boards (+3.8) and in turnover margin (+2.7). The 3-pointer is the weapon of choice, with Illinois averaging 10 treys per contest. Brandon Paul headlines the squad in terms of scoring, netting an impressive 18.8 ppg on .464 shooting. D.J. Richardson (11.5 ppg) and Tracy Adams (11.5 ppg) add to the backcourt depth. Paul and Richardson have been a lethal duo from behind the arc, combining for just over half (63) of the team's 120 3-pointers to date.
It wasn't the cleanest of games from Illinois' perspective, as the team committed 20 turnovers. However, the Illini were able to offset that by shooting an even 50 percent from the field in a 13-point win over EKU. Paul led the way, just missing a double-double with 17 points and nine rebounds. Abrams and Joseph Bertrand were instrumental in the win as well, finishing with 13 and 11 points, respectively.
This is always a spirited affair that usually comes down to the wire. This season should follow suit. Bowers and Paul are the dominant playmakers on both sides, but it is Illinois's supporting cast that could prove to be the difference in the end.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Illinois 75, Missouri 72
12/22 10:37:24 ET