“The toughest game to coach.”
“A heavyweight fight.”
“Throw the records out.”
These are three platitudes John Groce used to describe the Missouri “Braggin’ Rights” game, which tips off at 1 p.m. on Saturday. The annual contest pitting Illinois versus Miznoz in St. Louis is always a challenging and exciting game, but I feel like maybe the ball coach was selling it a little hard this year.
So far the Tigers have put together a 5-5 record with losses to powerhouses like Missouri-Kansas City, Purdue, and Xavier. In other words: this is the worst Missouri team in the last decade. For perspective, KenPom.com ranks Mizzou as the 159th best team in college basketball right now; American (whom Illinois beat 70-55) is ranked 119th and Baylor (whom Illinois beat 62-54) is ranked 13th(!).
The problem with Missouri comes from a lack of depth, as only one of the team’s top five scorers is not a freshman or sophomore (senior guard Keith Shamburger, averaging 8.6 points per game, fourth on the team). While there are definite weapons in the Tigers lineup — Johnathan Williams III, for instance, who is averaging 12.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, or Montaque Gill-Caesar, who’s putting 12.6 per game–neither of these weapons are consistent at a high level for Missouri, leading to their middling record.
For Illinois to reclaim the crown this year all that needs to be done is execute. If the Illini follow the game plan, don’t have a stretch like the final 6 minutes of the Oregon game, and make shots about at the season average (44%), there’s no way Missouri is walking out of the Scottrade Center with the trophy.
My prediction: Illinois 71-Missouri 58