Know Your Braggin' Rights Rival: Illinois

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Braggin' Rights is upon us once again, though both teams stumble into St. Louis a bit.  Illinois fell into a small funk that culminated in a shocking loss to Illinois-Chicago on Saturday; meanwhile, Mizzou was playing much, much better but has to deal with more adversity, this time in the form of an injury to Phil Pressey.  Illinois is a thin team anyway, and it appears Mizzou will continue to play with a shorter bench than Mike Anderson would prefer.  Of course, Illinois was thin last year and Mizzou was dealing with injury (okay, illness) then too, and that turned out pretty well for Mizzou, right?

Illinois (10-2)


Illini
Opp.
Pace (No. of Possessions)
69.4
Points Per Minute
1.91
1.59
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.12
0.93
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.27
1.12
2-PT FG% 50.3%
45.5%
3-PT FG% 40.6%
29.7%
FT% 69.5%
64.8%
True Shooting % 56.3%
48.8%




Illini Opp.
Assists/Gm 17.3
11.8
Steals/Gm 7.3
5.6
Turnovers/Gm 12.9
17.2
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.90
1.01




Illini Opp.
Expected Off. Rebounds/Gm 12.3
13.3
Offensive Rebounds/Gm 11.8
12.8
Difference -0.5
-0.5

First things first: Illinois plays fast.  They rank 16th in Ken Pomeroy's Adj. Tempo measure, and Mizzou ranks 17th; though neither team goes even ten-deep, they will get up and down the court.

Saturday's horrid offense aside, Illinois has been a rather sound team -- they shoot well, they don't turn the ball over ... while their opponents don't shoot well and do turn the ball over.  They have not been amazing on the glass; here's to hoping Mizzou brings the rebounding intensity they showed against Vanderbilt.  In general, Illinois' stats portray them as a rock solid team, Saturday notwithstanding.

Ken Pomeroy Stats

UI Offense vs MU Defense Ranks

UI Offense MU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 29
60
UI
Effective FG% 44
171
UI Big
Turnover % 50
4
MU
Off. Reb. % 126
217
UI
FTA/FGA 317
227
MU
MU Offense vs UI Defense Ranks

MU Offense UI Defense Advantage
Efficiency 19
18
Push
Effective FG% 30
68
MU
Turnover % 41
38
Push
Off. Reb. % 79
217
MU Big
FTA/FGA 289
91
UI Big

Where the Fighting Illini are weakest

Illinois is at least solid in most categories, but three specific weaknesses stand out:

  • They don't draw fouls. They rank 317th against Offensive FTA/FGA.  They are a pass-and-shoot team, and those types of teams have seen success at times against Mizzou this year (Oregon, Georgetown and La Salle all stink in that category as well).  Quick ball movement can result in open shots against Mizzou (and everybody else, for that matter).
  • They are tall, but they don't block out very well.  The Illini rank 217th in Def. Rebounding, which is crazy considering, as we'll see below, they are among the tallest teams in the country.  They are a big team, but they might be a bit soft too.  Can Mizzou take advantage of this?  The Tigers have been all over the place on the glass, sometimes dominant, sometimes invisible.
  • They are thin, thin, thin.  Illinois ranks 228th in Bench Minutes; they have a couple of interesting freshmen on the bench, but they will probably go only as far as their starting five will take them.  And to take this one step further, for all intents and purposes they play three guards.  Redshirt freshman Joseph Bertrand and freshman Crandall Head could see time, but they have played only a combined 75 minutes through 12 games and are not listed in the player stats below.

Where they are best

  • They really are tall.  Of the nine primary players in the rotation, six are at least 6'7 and none are shorter than 6'3.  They are a long, relatively athletic team, which results in many blocked shots on defense (25th in Def. Block%) and few on offense (53rd in Off. Block%).
  • They shoot well.  You can get away with being a jump-shooting team if you drain those shots.  Most of Illinois' bigs have solid range away from the hoop, and all three primary guards shoot at least 37% from long range.  They shot just 33% against Illinois-Chicago on Saturday, but that was a pretty clear outlier.
  • You don't shoot well against them.  They rank a decent 118th in 2PT% defense and a good 47th in 3PT%.  Obviously when you are as long as Illinois, you can obstruct and impact quite a few shots, even if you are not blocking them.

Illinois' Season to Date

  • Wins (Team Rank is from KenPom.com)
    vs No. 24 Maryland, 80-76
    No. 25 North Carolina, 79-67
    vs No. 56 Gonzaga, 73-61
    No. 82 Oakland, 74-63
    No. 141 Northern Colorado, 86-76
    No. 154 Southern Illinois, 85-63
    at No. 186 Western Michigan, 78-63
    No. 188 UC-Irvine, 79-65
    No. 194 Yale, 73-47
    No. 314 Toledo, 84-45
  • Losses
    vs No. 22 Texas, 84-90 (OT)
    vs No. 212 UI-Chicago, 54-57

Again, the loss to Illinois-Chicago appears to be an extreme outlier.  The Illini had built a very nice resume before that game, going 2-1 against Top 25 competition (with the loss coming in overtime) and winning all but one game on the season by double digits.  They have begun to struggle over the last couple of weeks, however.  After knocking off North Carolina and Gonzaga with relative ease, they fell behind Oakland, 15-4, in the semi-famous Girls' Ball game, then coasted rather unimpressively after building an early lead against Northern Colorado.  Illinois-Chicago surprised them with a 1-3-1 zone, and they fell apart, scoring just four points in a six-minute span that saw them fall behind by seven early in the second half.  They stormed back to take a seven-point lead with five minutes left, then fell apart again.  Really, it shaped up very similar to last year's Mizzou-Oral Roberts game ... and Mizzou responded to that one just fine in the Braggin' Rights game.

Illinois Player Stats

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min Line
Demetri McCamey (6'3, 200, Sr.) 17.6 0.55 32.0 MPG, 15.8 PPG (50.9% 3PT), 7.2 APG, 3.5 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 2.5 TOPG
Mike Tisdale (7'1, 250, Sr.) 11.2 0.47 23.9 MPG, 10.3 PPG (50.6% 2PT, 83.3% FT), 7.0 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 1.3 APG, 1.6 TOPG
Mike Davis (6'9, 225, Sr.) 10.4 0.36 29.1 MPG, 10.3 PPG (53.0% 2PT), 6.6 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.8 TOPG
D.J. Richardson (6'3, 195, So.) 10.2 0.33 30.8 MPG, 12.0 PPG (46.0% 3PT), 2.2 APG, 1.9 RPG, 1.3 TOPG
Brandon Paul (6'4, 200, So.) 8.3 0.41 20.2 MPG, 8.7 PPG (43.9% FG), 2.9 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.8 TOPG
Jereme Richmond (6'7, 205, Fr.) 6.7 0.31 21.3 MPG, 7.8 PPG (45.6% FG), 4.8 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.5 TOPG
Bill Cole (6'9, 215, Sr.) 6.3 0.34 18.2 MPG, 4.8 PPG (42.6% FG), 2.3 RPG, 1.3 APG
Meyers Leonard (7'0, 240, Fr.) 2.1 0.20 10.7 MPG, 3.2 PPG (53.3% FG), 1.9 RPG
Tyler Griffey (6'8, 235, So.) 1.6 0.17 9.3 MPG, 2.6 PPG, 1.3 RPG

* AdjGS = a take-off of the Game Score metric (definition here) accepted by a lot of basketball stat nerds.  It redistributes a team's points based not only on points scored, but also by giving credit for assists, rebounds (offensive & defensive), steals, blocks, turnovers and fouls.  It is a stat intended to determine who had the biggest overall impact on the game itself, instead of just how many balls a player put through a basket.

  • Highest Usage%: Paul 24%, McCamey 23%, Richmond 23%
  • Highest Floor%: McCamey 48%, Davis 42%, Cole 42%.
  • Highest %Pass: McCamey 71%, Cole 59%, Paul 52%.
  • Highest %Shoot: Griffey 63%, Leonard 60%, Richmond 44%.
  • Highest %Foul: Tisdale 15%, Leonard 12%, Griffey 12%.
  • Highest %TO: Leonard 16%, Griffey 14%, Richmond 9%.
  • Demetri McCamey has transformed himself as a player.  He was a long-range bomber early in his career, and while he still shoots 3-pointers incredibly well, he is now one of the best distributors in the country, ranking 13th in Assist Rate.  Like all of Illinois' seniors (especially Bill Cole), it feels like he's been playing in Braggin' Rights since Clarence Gilbert was in school, but as far as I can tell, that's not actually true.
  • Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis both play a bit shorter than they are; both are decent rebounders, but not great ones.  Tisdale is a solid offensive rebounder and shot-blocker (and at 7'1, I would hope so), but he isn't spectacular in either case.
  • This is going to be a completely different team next year.  Richardson and Paul will return, though one of them will likely need to make a decent move to the point role McCamey has assumed.  Jereme Richmond will likely become a go-to scorer, and four 4-star freshmen will play large roles as well. This season was supposed to be a high-point for the Bruce Weber era, and it still could be, but next year will likely represent a temporary step backwards.

Last Year

God, last year felt great, didn't it?  Neither team entered the game hot -- Mizzou was 3-3 in their last six, Illinois 4-3 in their last seven -- and Mizzou had to deal with Zaire Taylor's lingering illness (he played just four minutes).  But Mike Dixon looked great in extended minutes, and Kim English made five of 10 3-point attempts as Mizzou pulled away to win easily.  Illinois had five players in double figures (Tisdale 14, McCamey 13, Davis 11, Richardson 11, Paul 11) but got just eight bench points and wore down enough that they could never close the gap that Mizzou built near the end of the first half.  In terms of +/-, Tisdale and Paul were -16 while Richardson was -11.  Marcus Denmon was +12 and Mike Dixon was +11, and Mizzou definitively won the backcourt battle.  Let's do that again, huh?

Keys to the Game

  1. The Middle Rounds.  You know how I love a good boxing analogy, and you probably know by now how we judge each segment between TV timeouts as a single "round" of a 10-round fight.  The middle rounds of each half (rounds 3-4 in the first half, 8-9 in the second) have decided the Braggin' Rights game each of the last couple of years.  Illinois crushed Mizzou in Round 3 two years ago, while Mizzou dominated rounds 4 and 9 last season.  The beginning of the game is a semi-tense, feeling-out process.  The game will not be won or lost in that span, but whoever seizes momentum as the halves wear on and bench play becomes an issue, will win this game.

  2. The Glass.  Both teams have been a bit schizophrenic on the glass, so it's pretty fair to break out an old cliche right now: the battle on the glass will likely depend on who wants it more.  In terms of expected rebounds, Mizzou was -3 against Central Arkansas and -5 against Oral Roberts ... and +6 against a Vanderbilt team that is very strong on the glass.  Time for Ricardo Ratliffe to shut things down on the defensive side of the ball and Laurence Bowers to fly around on offense.

  3. Denmon (or English) vs McCamey.  Mizzou beat Illinois last year because they won the backcourt battle.  Even without Phil Pressey, they can do so again this year as long as somebody matches Demetri McCamey's output.  Without J.T. Tiller on him, McCamey will likely have a better game than he did last year, but that's fine as long as either Marcus Denmon or Kim English can keep up.  If they don't, McCamey can win this game by himself.

Prediction

The last couple of Braggin' Rights contests have not been amazingly close, and it won't surprise me if this one isn't either.  With what should be a pretty fast pace, whoever derives the per-possession advantage could see the final margin magnified by a decent amount.  Anywhere between a 15-point Mizzou win and a 15-point Illinois win won't be particularly shocking.  But as I've said many times, while I can acknowledge all of the possibilities, my prediction doesn't actually count for anything, so I'm picking the good guys.  If Mizzou wins, I expect it to be somewhere in the 84-76 range, so we'll go with that.  Should be fun.

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