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Know Your Braggin' Rights Rival: Illinois

There must be something wrong with me.  I know Mizzou can win this game, and I know a win tomorrow night would give this season a significant bump in the right direction.  But when I think of the Illinois game, two major thoughts come to mind:

  1. We're probably going to lose.  It's what we do in this game.  (And as long as we keep winning the football game, I see this as a fair trade.)

  2. As long as we show improvement, moving the ball relatively well on offense and showing that we've improved on the boards, I'm more or less okay with that.

Here's the problem: every time I've ever decided I've come to grips with a loss beforehand, we end up losing in the most annoying, grating way possible.  AJ blocks a shot right to Brian Boddicker for an open 3 against Texas in 2004.  Kansas makes two ridiculously stupid 25-foot 3-pointers to win at Hearnes in 2003.  Keon Lawrence slips and dribbles the ball off his foot against Illinois in 2007.  Et cetera.  So now that I've officially accepted that we're probably going to lose this game ... I'm fired up about not losing this game.

Illinois 8-3

UI Opp
Points Per Minute
1.97 1.63
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.15 0.95
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.29 1.11
2-PT FG% 52.8% 47.1%
3-PT FG% 38.6% 27.9%
FT% 73.0% 70.8%
True Shooting % 57.3% 49.2%
UI Opp
Assists/Gm 17.5 11.5
Steals/Gm 6.1 6.1
Turnovers/Gm 11.7 14.3
Ball Control Index
(Assists + Steals) / TO
2.01 1.24
UI Opp
Expected Offensive Rebounds 131 144
Offensive Rebounds 125 123
Difference -6 -21

Ken Pomeroy Stats

UI Offense vs MU Defense Ranks
UI Offense MU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 38 13 MU
Effective FG% 34 11 MU
Turnover % 22 2 MU
Off. Reb. % 122 268 Illini Big
FTA/FGA 321 185 MU Big
MU Offense vs UI Defense Ranks
MU Offense UI Defense Advantage
Efficiency 58 101 MU
Effective FG% 48 73 MU
Turnover % 73 198 MU Big
Off. Reb. % 86 50 Illini
FTA/FGA 313 59 Illini Big

Where the Illini are best

In all, Illinois is a pretty damn efficient offensive team.  They shoot well (57.3% true shooting), they don't turn the ball over much (outside of Demetri McCamey), their BCI hovers right at a lovely 2.0, and they are perfectly acceptable in the offensive rebounding category; they're only okay in the rebounds department considering their overall size (six guys 6'9 or taller), but they're still better than Mizzou by all means.

Where the Illini are weakest

First of all, they don't get to the line any better than Mizzou does -- this game could be decided by long jumpers and offensive rebound opportunities.  Plus, while they're strong in terms of FG% defense, they don't force too many turnovers.

UI's Season to Date

  • @Illinois 96, SIU-Edwardsville 69 (W)
  • @Illinois 80, Northern Illinois 61 (W)
  • Las Vegas Invitational
    @Illinois 94, Presbyterian 48 (W)
    @Illinois 78, Wofford 64 (W)
    Utah 60, Illinois 58 (in Las Vegas) (L)
    Bradley 72, Illinois 68 (in Las Vegas) (L)
  • Illinois 76, @Clemson 74 (W)
  • @Illinois 84, Boise State 77 (W)
  • @Illinois 79, Vanderbilt 68 (W)
  • @Illinois 88, Western Michigan 53 (W)
  • @Georgia 70, Illinois 67 (L)

Looking at both Mizzou's and Illinois' results this year, one thing most certainly stands out: these are two young teams.  Illinois pulls off an astounding comeback to win in Clemson ... right after losing to an iffy Bradley team and a downright bad Utah team.  They pull away from Vanderbilt in a big win ... then lose to Georgia.  They have been outstanding (5-0) at home this season, but away from Assembly Hall, things get relatively dicey (3-3).  Sounds familiar, right?  Mizzou's average win at home this season is by a margin of roughly eleventy-billion-point-one.  Away from Mizzou Arena, they're capable of losing to Oral Roberts.  This makes this game extremely tough to predict.

Illinois Player Stats

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min Line
Mike Davis (6'9, 220, Jr.) 14.1 0.46 30.5 MPG, 12.5 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 1.2 APG
Demetri McCamey (6'3, 200, Jr.) 13.1 0.47 27.6 MPG, 14.2 PPG, 5.5 APG, 3.0 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 3.7 TOPG
Mike Tisdale (7'1, 235, Jr.) 11.8 0.50 23.4 MPG, 10.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 2.1 BPG
D.J. Richardson (6'2, 185, Fr.) 9.9 0.34 29.4 MPG, 10.8 PPG, 3.0 APG, 2.3 RPG
Brandon Paul (6'4, 195, Fr.) 8.3 0.37 22.3 MPG, 10.4 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.7 TOPG
Dominique Keller (6'7, 230, Sr.) 6.7 0.45 15.1 MPG, 7.0 PPG, 2.9 RPG
Bill Cole (6'9, 215, Jr.) 4.1 0.27 15.2 MPG, 3.5 PPG, 3.3 RPG
Tyler Griffey (6'9, 225, Fr.) 3.9 0.48 8.1 MPG, 3.5 PPG, 2.1 RPG
Jeff Jordan (6'1, 185, Jr.) 3.0 0.17 17.6 MPG, 2.3 PPG, 2.4 APG, 2.2 RPG
Richard Semrau (6'10, 245, Jr.) 2.8 0.44 6.2 MPG, 2.1 PPG, 2.0 RPG
Alex Legion (6'5, 200, Jr.) 1.5 0.15 10.4 MPG, 3.0 PPG
Stan Simpson (6'10, 230, Fr.) 0.6 0.19 12 minutes
Bubba Chisholm (5'11, 180, Sr.) 0.5 0.38 8 minutes

* 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.

  • Stats from the last two Mizzou-Illinois games:
  • Demetri McCamey: 28.0 MPG, 12.0 PPG (9-for-14 FG, 4-for-7 3PT), 3.0 APG, 3.0 TOPG
    Mike Davis
    : 25.0 MPG, 9.5 PPG (8-for-13 FG), 5.0 RPG
    Mike Tisdale
    : 13.0 MPG, 6.5 PPG (6-for-11 FG), 4.0 RPG

    McCamey murdered Mizzou last year, with 18 first-half points (including, if I remember correctly, at least one bank-shot 3...always a tell-tale sign that you're about to get massacred), so he's clearly the player Mizzou fans fear the most.  Knowing Mizzou's current strengths and weaknesses, however, Davis and Tisdale are almost as worrisome.
  • In all, Mizzou's best opportunity might come from the fact that two of UI's primary ball-handlers are freshmen.  That lack of experience is offset a bit by McCamey and the fact that he has had a primary role in two Braggin' Rights games now, but he's a bit of a turnover machine himself.  Even though Illinois has put together some solid turnover numbers, if Mizzou can avoid getting shot out of the building like they were last year, they might eventually be able to wear down the Illini backcourt.  But that whole "avoid getting your doors blown off early" thing is a bit up in the air.
  • If Mizzou does derive a bit of an advantage in the backcourt, it is offset by Illinois' extreme depth advantage up front.  I like that Davis is only 220 pounds, roughly the same as Laurence Bowers and Keith Ramsey, but Tisdale is a bit of a load, and they have a wealth of other tall guys -- Dominique Keller, Bill Cole, former Mizzou recruit Tyler Griffey, Richard Semrau -- to throw at Mizzou.

And just in case any Illinois fans end up reading this, here are Mizzou's own player stats as well.

Mizzou Player Stats

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min Line
Laurence Bowers (6'8, 205, So.)
13.3 0.67 19.8 MPG, 10.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 1.5 APG, 1.3 SPG
Kim English (6'6, 200, So.)
12.4 0.56 22.1 MPG, 16.1 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 1.4 APG, 2.1 TOPG
Zaire Taylor (6'4, 189, Sr.)
11.1 0.40 27.8 MPG, 9.0 PPG, 3.1 APG, 3.1 RPG, 2.8 SPG
Marcus Denmon (6'3, 185, So.)
9.2 0.46 20.1 MPG, 10.5 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.2 SPG
Keith Ramsey (6'9, 210, Sr.)
9.2 0.36 25.4 MPG, 5.9 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 1.7 APG, 1.3 BPG, 1.7 TOPG
J.T. Tiller (6'3, 200, Sr.)
7.0 0.30 23.3 MPG, 9.6 PPG, 2.9 APG, 2.3 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 2.4 TOPG
Mike Dixon (6'1, 175, Fr.)
6.9 0.38 18.1 MPG, 8.2 PPG, 2.8 APG, 1.6 RPG
Justin Safford (6'8, 230, Jr.)
6.2 0.34 18.4 MPG, 7.6 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.5 TOPG
Miguel Paul (6'1, 172, So.)
4.4 0.31 14.0 MPG, 4.2 PPG, 2.6 APG
John Underwood (6'9, 208, Fr.)
1.9 0.30 6.3 MPG, 1.3 PPG, 2.8 RPG
Tyler Stone (6'7, 225, Fr.) 1.5 0.34 4.3 MPG, 1.7 PPG, 1.2 RPG
Steve Moore (6'9, 264, So.) 1.3 0.12 11.0 MPG, 1.6 PPG, 1.4 RPG
Jarrett Sutton (6'3, 190, Jr.) 0.6 0.16 4.0 MPG, 1.8 PPG

* 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.

  • In some ways, Bowers and Mike Davis are similar players -- not prominent shooters (they score, but they don't take a boatload of shots), solid rebounders (Davis is better), solid passers (Bowers is better).  Bowers is the ultimate box score filler, and as we'll see soon enough, the more prominent he is, the better Mizzou gets.
  • It really is neat watching this defense in action -- no single player dominates in the steals department, but just about everybody snags at least one a game.

Keys to the Game

  1. Pace.  The main difference between last season's Mizzou squad and this season's (thus far) is the ability to force their will on their opponent.  In almost every game last year, Mizzou was able to force opponents into playing much faster than they wanted, and while we've seen the same type of spurts this season, the spurts don't last nearly as long.  While Mizzou prefers a pace well over 70 possessions a game, Old Dominion was able to keep things at a 65-possession pace.  Richmond?  60.  Oral Roberts?  61.  Unacceptable.

    Illinois plays at a reasonably fast clip, averaging about 68 possessions per game.  With two freshmen and a turnover-heavy star, Illinois might be vulnerable to a faster pace if Mizzou can force them into it.  If not, Mizzou's best opportunity for winning goes by the wayside.

  2. Laurence Bowers.  He is the key to Mizzou's offensive flow.  Ball movement has been alright this year, but with only one person consistently trying to generate shots (Kim English), there hasn't been a lot of purpose to the ball movement.  Guys like Bowers and Zaire Taylor will shoot it if they're wide open, but they're not looking to score or create.  That has to change if Mizzou has any chance.  Taylor has an excuse (he's the point guard, not the shooting guard), but it's time for Bowers to show what his ceiling is.  He's done well in the last two cupcake games, taking plenty of shots, but most of them are still in the "putbacks and wide open looks" vein.  Let's find out if that's all he is, or if there's a natural, 15 PPG scorer beneath the surface.  He's a skinny guy, but he's a good FT shooter, and I want to see him taking a few more not-completely-open shots and driving.  Maybe he can do it, and maybe he can't, but I want to find out.

  3. Justin Safford.  Can't say it enough: against a reasonably decent rebounding team Saturday night (UAPB), Safford was more aggressive on the boards than I've ever seen him.  It was a breath of fresh air, and even if he picks up a couple over-aggressive fouls, I want to see the same level of intensity against Illinois.  He is, by default, the biggest player in Mizzou's rotation, the only main contributor over 220 pounds (barely), and if he turns into a solid 6-7 RPG guy (he's averaged only 2.8 RPG against the "real" opponents on Mizzou's schedule so far), Mizzou's overall rebounding trouble just took a step in the right direction.


Never bet against a streak, right?  This isn't a great Illinois team -- like Mizzou, they are pretty young and vulnerable to falling asleep for minutes at a time.  They have a high upside and pretty low downside, and if Mizzou brings the attack to them early, they could run away with this game.  But that hasn't happened since 1999.  It feels like odds are still in favor of the "McCamey gets hot early, Mizzou has some shots rim in and out and goes into a shell, and they're playing from behind all night" scenario.  So I'm chickening out and going with Illinois 75, Mizzou 67.  Mizzou absolutely can win this game, but they need to prove it.