Illinois-Missouri basketball preview: Know your Braggin' Rights rival

Michael Hickey

Braggin' Rights features a lot of really interesting individual matchups, but if Mizzou wins the rebounding battle (as it has for most of the year) and Jordan Clarkson plays well, the Tigers will be difficult for the Illini to beat.

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In a given game, your players combine for 200 minutes on the court (40 minutes x 5 players). Of the 200 minutes Mizzou players played in last year's Braggin' Rights game (an 82-73 Tiger win), 114 were logged by players no longer with the team. Jabari Brown played 35 minutes (18 points, 7 rebounds), Earnest Ross played 29 (8 points, 6 rebounds), Tony Criswell played 22 (7 points, 5 rebounds), and that's it.

It's the same story for Illinois. Center Nnanna Egwu played 35 minutes (12 points, 9 rebounds), Joe Bertrand played 30 (13 points, 10 in the second half), Tracy Abrams played 19 (4 points on 2-for-9 shooting), and that's it.

Transfers will play enormous roles tomorrow afternoon in St. Louis; Jordan Clarkson is also the key cog in this year's Mizzou attack, while Rayvonte Rice (Drake) and Jon Ekey (Illinois State) each play key roles for Illinois. Meanwhile, freshmen like Johnathan Williams III, Wes Clark, Jaylon Tate, and Malcolm Hill will see quite a few minutes as well. This game is a relative tossup-- Ken Pomeroy projects a 67-66 Mizzou win -- but while the stats below obviously matter, the team that wins will probably be the one that prepares its newbies best for the strange, intense environment the Scottrade Center provides.

But yeah, we're going to dive into the stats either way.

Illinois Fighting Illini (9-2)


UI
Opp.
Pace (No. of Possessions)
63.1
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.13 0.96
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.25 1.07
2-PT FG% 50.5% 42.6%
3-PT FG% 33.8% 32.1%
FT% 71.8% 66.5%
True Shooting % 54.5% 47.7%




UI Opp.
Assists/Gm 12.2 9.9
Steals/Gm 4.9 4.5
Turnovers/Gm 11.0 11.5
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.55 1.25




UI Opp.
Expected Off. Rebounds/Gm 11.2 12.2
Offensive Rebounds/Gm 12.5 11.1
Difference +1.3 -1.1

This is kind of a strength-vs-strength, weakness-vs-weakness battle. Like Missouri, Illinois is not a great ball-handling team. The Illini aren't quite as shaky at it as Missouri, but they might not be able to take full advantage of this Missouri issue. At the same time, this is a solid rebounding team, one that could prevent Mizzou from pulling down its typical advantage there. Both teams shoot reasonably well (Mizzou better than Illinois), and both teams hold opponents to iffy shots. If there's an early advantage for either Illinois in ball-handling or Mizzou on the glass, that could be telling.

Ken Pomeroy Stats

UI Offense vs MU Defense Ranks

UI Offense MU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 113 59 MU
Effective FG% 127 16 MU big
Turnover % 96 293 UI big
Off. Reb. % 49 15 MU
FTA/FGA 309 36 MU big
MU Offense vs UI Defense Ranks

MU Offense UI Defense Advantage
Efficiency 47 24 UI
Effective FG% 17 35 push
Turnover % 227 215 push
Off. Reb. % 72 140 MU
FTA/FGA 25 7 UI

Where the Illini are weakest

This appears to be a jump-shooting team. The Illini don't take much advantage of the new foul rules, drawing few whistles overall, and they are just 256th in Assists Per FG Made, which means most of their baskets are assist-less. You can get away with being a jump-shooting team if either a) you're awesome at it, or b) you're grabbing quite a few offensive rebounds (preferably both); Illinois is more (b) than (a), but the offense overall ranks just 113th at the moment.

On defense, the only real glitch is that Illinois doesn't turn you over much (thankfully). Also: The bench is pretty thin (273rd in Bench Minutes) and young (171st in Experience).

Where they are best

On defense, the Illini also don't foul much. Mizzou will test them in that regard, obviously, but the Tigers' success in doing so (and the tightness with which refs are blowing their whistles) will be telling. If Missouri is getting to the line, the Tigers are probably winning, but if the drives aren't getting whistles, recent precedent suggests they will result in a turnover instead.

If you aren't getting free points off of Illinois, you probably aren't also getting good looks. Illinois is 35th in FG% defense, 34th on 2-pointers. They are also 54th in Assists Per FG Made on defense, which means you can't pass yourself open very well. This is also a long team (53rd in Effective Height), with three players 6'7 or tallier playing at least 26 minutes, and a 6'9er and 6'10er coming off of the bench.

On offense, the steals are minimal (as is typically the case for any team against Missouri), as are the blocks. This isn't an amazing shooting team, but it will get some pretty clean looks. And that, of course, leaves you vulnerable to a Joe Bertrand-esque hot streak.

Illinois' Season to Date

  • Wins (Team Rank is from KenPom.com)
    at No. 95 UNLV (61-59)
    No. 116 Valparaiso (64-52)
    No. 187 IPFW (57-55)
    No. 195 Dartmouth (72-65)
    vs. No. 208 Auburn (81-62)
    No. 213 Bradley (81-55)
    No. 295 Chicago State (77-53)
    No. 300 Jacksonville State (86-62)
    No. 307 Alabama State (80-63)
  • Losses
    at No. 20 Oregon (64-71)
    at No. 89 Georgia Tech (64-67)

Average Score vs. Top 100: Opponent 66, Illinois 63 (-3)
Average Score vs. No. 101-200: Illinois 64, Opponent 57 (+7)
Average Score vs. No. 201+: Illinois 81, Opponent 58 (+23)

Illinois is good enough to hang with solid teams -- the Illini led Oregon in Portland well into the second half -- and shaky enough to struggle with the IPFWs and Dartmouths of the world. Kind of what you'd expect from a team with two transfers and five freshmen. There's obvious talent here, but the Illini are still young, raw, disjointed, etc. A Mizzou win will probably look pretty good in March, as Illinois is probably a team that will be better then than now. (And in that same vein, I guess a loss won't look too bad.)

Illinois Player Stats

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min Line
Rayvonte Rice (6'4, 235, Jr.) 18.4 0.58 32.0 MPG, 17.7 PPG (59% 2PT, 33% 3PT, 78% FT), 5.5 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.2 TOPG, 2.1 PFPG
Joseph Bertrand (6'6, 200, Sr.) 10.3 0.36 28.5 MPG, 10.7 PPG (54% 2PT, 53% 3PT, 67% FT), 5.3 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.7 TOPG, 2.2 PFPG
Tracy Abrams (6'2, 190, Jr.) 10.2 0.36 28.3 MPG, 11.5 PPG (41% 2PT, 24% 3PT, 72% FT), 4.0 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.9 TOPG
Nnanna Egwu (6'11, 250, Jr.) 9.5 0.35 27.2 MPG, 8.3 PPG (51% 2PT, 33% 3PT, 71% FT), 5.4 RPG, 2.3 BPG, 2.5 PFPG
Jon Ekey (6'7, 225, Sr.) 9.0 0.33 26.9 MPG, 9.2 PPG (45% 2PT, 42% 3PT, 89% FT), 2.7 PFPG
Jaylon Tate (6'3, 160, Fr.) 3.8 0.22 17.6 MPG, 2.7 PPG (38% 2PT, 11% 3PT, 82% FT), 3.5 APG, 1.1 RPG
Malcolm Hill (6'6, 210, Fr.) 2.6 0.22 12.0 MPG, 3.8 PPG (35% 3PT, 20% 3PT, 73% FT), 2.7 RPG, 1.3 TOPG
Kendrick Nunn (6'3, 180, Fr.) 2.2 0.22 10.1 MPG, 2.8 PPG (56% 2PT, 36% 3PT), 1.1 RPG
Austin Colbert (6'9, 210, Fr.) 1.8 0.24 7.4 MPG, 2.3 PPG, 1.1 RPG
Maverick Morgan (6'10, 250, Fr.) 1.5 0.19 7.8 MPG, 1.8 PPG, 1.5 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%: Rice (26%), Abrams (26%), Hill (24%)
  • Highest Floor%: Rice (45%), Bertrand (43%), Tate (42%)
  • Highest %Pass: Tate (81%), Abrams (54%), Nunn (51%)
  • Highest %Shoot: Ekey (70%), Egwu (65%), Rice (45%)
  • Highest %Fouled: Hill (20%), Bertrand (14%), Rice (13%)
  • Highest %T/O: Nunn (13%), Hill (12%), Bertrand (10%)
  • There are some fun matchups here. You like big wings? Then you'll enjoy Earnest Ross vs. Rayvonte Rice or Jon Ekey. You like bombers who can drive? How's Jabari Brown vs. Joe Bertrand sound? (Granted, Brown's a better driver, and Bertrand's a better bomber, but you get the idea.) And who doesn't enjoy beefy bigs who don't do much?? Then Nnanna Egwu vs. Ryan Rosburg is for you! (Egwu does more than Rosburg, yes.) Winning (or at least splitting) these battles will be key for both teams, especially since I feel pretty good about the other matchups (Clarkson vs. Abrams, Rice/Ekey vs. Johnathan Williams III or Tony Criswell).

Keys to the Game

  1. Win the point. There are obviously a lot of interesting one-on-one matchups here. Bertrand ... Ekey ... Brown ... Ross ... Rice ... any of them could go crazy from the wing. But the biggest individual advantage Missouri has is at the point, where Jordan Clarkson has been a revelation and Tracy Abrams is still a bit hit-or-miss. If Clarkson is hitting jumpers and getting to the line, he can get to 25 points really easily, and it's hard to imagine Abrams keeping up from a points-and-passing standpoint. But if Clarkson is getting frustrated and getting a little out of control, like he did on Sunday against WMU, Mizzou's biggest opportunity for an advantage is probably squandered. And against a defense good at not fouling and preventing too many assists, this could go either way.

  2. Hit the glass. It's Mizzou's other potentially big advantage. Missouri is a good offensive rebounding team (primarily because of JW3) and an absolutely outstanding defensive rebounding team. If Illinois is able to break even on the glass, it becomes a shooting competition. Hey, speaking of which...

  3. SOMEBODY PLEASE GUARD JOE BERTRAND. Missouri is a much better defensive team on the perimeter this year. The Tigers are very tall, Clarkson is a solid defender, and Jabari Brown has improved dramatically in this regard. (Seriously, I can't say enough about how impressed I am with Brown's offseason improvement. He has closed a lot of the holes in his game.) Still, Bertrand has been ... well, not a Tiger killer because Missouri's won each of the games against him ... but he's been a Tiger wounder, I guess. He almost single-handedly brought Illinois back in the second half two years ago, he scored 10 points in the second half last year, and in two games against Mizzou, he's scored 32 points on 14-for-20 shooting. That's not a huge sample, but ... somebody please guard Joe Bertrand. Thanks.

Prediction

Like I said above, this one's basically a tossup from a stat perspective. This one will probably be decided by newcomers and a couple of specific matchups. Who steps up to make this a fifth straight Braggin' Rights win for Missouri? I'm feeling pretty confident for one reason or another -- I'm thinking something like 72-65 Mizzou feels right to me -- but Illinois has a very good shot to end the streak. What's your pick?

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