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Know Your Braggin' Rights Rival: The Illinois Fighting Illini

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The pessimist's view: Illinois has both size and depth, two things of which Mizzou has been in short supply in 2011-12.

The optimist's view: Illinois can't shoot 3-pointers, can't stop you from making 3-pointers, isn't amazing on the offensive glass, and doesn't actually get anything from its seemingly deep bench.

Are you a glass-half-full or half-empty kind of fan?

Illinois (11-1)

Pace (No. of Possessions)
Points Per Minute
Points Per Possession (PPP)
Points Per Shot (PPS)
2-PT FG% 51.0%
3-PT FG% 32.5%
FT% 73.0%
True Shooting % 54.3%

Illini Opp.
Assists/Gm 14.1
Steals/Gm 6.1
Turnovers/Gm 12.7
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO

Illini Opp.
Expected Off. Rebounds/Gm 11.7
Offensive Rebounds/Gm 11.4
Difference -0.3

Illinois plays slow-it-down ball, grinds out possessions that usually end with a guard shooting the ball, and attempts to win by blocking every shot within 10 feet of the basket. They do not draw many fouls, they are 212th in 3-point shooting and 223rd in 3-point defense, and considering they have one of the rarer players in college basketball -- a 7-foot-1 player who is actually pretty good -- they indeed to not hit the offensive glass particularly hard. But if Mizzou's 3-point shots aren't falling, they are going to struggle to score against the Illini.

Ken Pomeroy Stats

UI Offense vs MU Defense Ranks

UI Offense MU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 108
Effective FG% 124
Turnover % 111
Off. Reb. % 87
MU Big
MU Offense vs UI Defense Ranks

MU Offense UI Defense Advantage
Efficiency 2
Effective FG% 1
Turnover % 1
Off. Reb. % 139

Where the Illini are weakest

As mentioned above, anything involving 3-pointers hasn't really gone Illinois' way this year. That, and they don't steal the ball very much. They are decent at forcing turnovers, but we'll see if they are good enough against what is, at this current moment, the best ball-handling team in the country (according to Turnover%).

Where they are best

Again, they are phenomenal at shot-blocking, and because of that, they have the No. 17 2PT% defense in the country. This will be a really fun matchup -- Mizzou currently ranks second in the country in 2PT shooting themselves. It is likely that Ricardo Ratliffe will struggle to find many open shots against Meyers Leonard, but luckily for Mizzou, the Tigers are also the No. 17 3-point shooting team in the country.

One other Illinois strength: they don't give up many steals. Avoid those types of turnovers, and you further limit the number of good looks Missouri gets on the other end of the court.

Opp's Season to Date

  • Wins vs Top 200 Teams (Team Rank is from
    No. 29 Gonzaga (82-75)
    No. 90 St. Bonaventure (48-43)
    vs No. 99 Illinois State (63-59)
    vs No. 101 Richmond (70-61)
    at No. 148 Maryland (71-62)
    No. 176 Cornell (64-60)
  • Losses
    vs No. 24 UNLV (48-64)

Illinois vs Ken Pomeroy's Top 200: 6-1 (average score: Illinois 63.7, Opponent 60.6)
Missouri vs Ken Pomeroy's Top 200: 4-0 (average score: Missouri 85.3, Opponent 61.3)

A reason for optimism if ever one existed. Mizzou's strength of schedule has certainly been brutal, but guess what: against the better teams on the schedule, the honest-to-god Top 100 teams, Mizzou has still dominated.

Opp Player Stats

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min Line
Meyers Leonard (7'1, 245, So.)
27.9 MPG, 13.3 PPG (65% 2PT, 33% 3PT, 72% FT), 7.8 RPG, 2.4 BPG, 1.3 APG, 1.8 TOPG
D.J. Richardson (6'3, 195, Jr.)
31.3 MPG, 14.4 PPG (43% 2PT, 43% 3PT, 84% FT), 3.0 RPG, 1.8 APG
Sam Maniscalco (6'0, 180, Sr.)
27.9 MPG, 10.9 PPG (56% 2PT, 32% 3PT, 89% FT), 3.0 APG, 2.5 RPG, 1.4 TOPG
Brandon Paul (6'4, 200, Jr.)
27.7 MPG, 10.7 PPG (42% 2PT, 24% 3PT, 68% FT), 3.9 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.3 SPG, 2.4 TOPG
Tyler Griffey (6'8, 230, Jr.)
23.7 MPG, 7.4 PPG (58% 2PT, 28% 3PT, 73% FT), 4.9 RPG
Joseph Bertrand (6'5, 195, So.)
11.3 MPG, 3.2 PPG (47% 2PT, 91% FT), 1.5 RPG, 1.1 APG
Myke Henry (6'6, 230, Fr.)
7.0 MPG, 2.9 PPG (67% 2PT, 17% 3PT, 50% FT), 1.0 RPG
Tracy Abrams (6'1, 185, Fr.)
15.4 MPG, 2.6 PPG (38% 2PT, 25% 3PT, 70% FT), 2.1 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.3 TOPG
Nnanna Egwu (6'11, 245, Fr.)
10.7 MPG, 2.4 PPG (47% 2PT, 25% FT), 1.9 RPG, 1.0 BPG
Mike Shaw (6'8, 230, Fr.)
9.4 MPG, 1.3 PPG (42% 2PT, 25% 3PT, 33% FT), 2.6 RPG
Crandall Head (6'4, 190, So.)
9.5 MPG, 1.1 PPG (25% FG), 1.1 APG, 1.0 TOPG
Ibby Djimde (6'8, 250, Fr.)
4.9 MPG, 0.6 PPG (20% FG), 1.2 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 (26%), Leonard (21%), Richardson (22%), Henry (21%).
  • Highest Floor%: Leonard (49%), Henry (44%), Maniscalco (42%), Richardson (22%).
  • Highest %Pass: Abrams (65%), Bertrand (60%), Maniscalco (59%), Paul (53%).
  • Highest %Shoot: Henry (55%), Griffey (52%), Richardson (45%), Leonard (38%).
  • Highest %Fouled: Leonard (18%), Paul (14%), Shaw (13%), Maniscalco (10%).
  • Highest %T/O: All the freshmen except Henry.

Illinois has a really, really weird lineup right now. Five players are guaranteed to log major minutes -- Richardson, Paul and Maniscalco in the backcourt, Griffey and Leonard up front. In that way, we can do decent analysis of the lineups at hand. But when it comes to the bench, it has been a rotating cast of characters, most of which have not contributed much. Myke Henry is probably the most interesting player off the bench -- he scored 21 points on just 10 field goal attempts against Chicago State a month ago -- but he suffered an ankle injury a month ago, and his minutes have been all over the place: 21 versus Chicago State, eight versus Coppin State ... and a combined 16 against Maryland, Gonzaga, St. Bonaventure, UNLV and Cornell.

Others have been the same way. Crandall Head logged just three minutes versus Cornell on Monday after logging 28 against Coppin State and UNLV. Mike Shaw averaged 17 minutes per game in the first three contests of the season, but just 5.7 over the last six games. Et cetera. Illinois has a lot of interesting pieces, but it seems as if Bruce Weber is still figuring out what he should do with each piece. With so many newcomers, both to the team and the rotation, it sometimes takes a while to figure out everybody's role.

In terms of the starter-versus-starter battles, however, the most interesting matchup has to be Kim English versus Tyler Griffey at the makeshift No. 4. Mizzou seems to have the advantage in the backcourt -- MU has to feel comfortable about winning the "Presseys versus Paul/Maniscalco" matchup, and while D.J. Richardson is solid, I would pick Marcus Denmon over just about anybody -- and Meyers Leonard will probably get the best of Ricardo Ratliffe, so how each team utilizes its No. 4 could go a long way toward deciding the game. Griffey has a clear size advantage, but he is not particularly impressive in terms of offensive rebounding ability (neither, for that matter, is Leonard). Will he muscle English around when Illinois has the ball? Will English be too quick for Griffey on the perimeter? In basketball, it's never as easy as saying "Player A and Player B will be matched up versus each other all night" by any means*, but it is easy to see the "one of these things is not like the other" matchup with Griffey facing off versus whoever Mizzou's No. 4 is on a given possession.

* In other words, this isn't like the pick-up basketball games I used to play, where a friend and I would make sure to be on opposite teams all the time so we could just guard each other and hang out on the 3-point line the whole time -- he would get so pissed when I would actually cut toward the basket, like I was breaking the rules or something ... and I kind of was.

Keys to the Game

  1. The 3-Point Line. The 3-pointer is a fickle mistress. In theory, Mizzou holds a significant advantage on the 3-point line, particularly on offense. But no matter how open the shots are, and no matter how good the shooter may be ... sometimes the ball just doesn't go through the basket. (And for Missouri players not named Mike Dixon, the outside shots really haven't fallen for Mizzou in the last couple of games.) And Illinois is a good enough defensive rebounding team that if the shots are rimming out, Mizzou doesn't necessarily have a clear Plan B.

    In this regard, it is a very good thing that we have seen more slashing and attacking the basket from the likes of Marcus Denmon and others recently. Just be careful: if you slash too far toward the basket, you're going to get rejected. If Phil Pressey is penetrating and dishing at a high level, then I guess that not only becomes Plan B, but Plan A. Still, make your 3's so I can stop worrying.

  2. The Hacktastic. Mizzou has been one of the best teams in the country in terms of avoiding fouls this year, and Illinois doesn't draw too many of them. But one player does a decent job in this regard: Meyers Leonard. If Ricardo Ratliffe picks up two early fouls, and then perhaps Steve Moore does the same, then Mizzou could be in trouble.

  3. Marcus Denmon. Mizzou has played three "real" games (games either on the road or versus major conference competition), all on a neutral (or semi-neutral) court. In those three games, Marcus Denmon has averaged 24.0 points (on 63% shooting), grabbed 5.0 rebounds and dished 2.3 assists per game. He has been simply spectacular when Mizzou has needed him to be. And when he's on like that, almost nothing else matters -- he's going to make sure Mizzou wins. He has been less than impressive (for him, anyway) in the last couple of games, but if he raises his game tonight ... then Mizzou probably wins no matter what.


Ken Pomeroy's projection says Mizzou 73, Illinois 65. He gives Mizzou a 78% chance of winning. This sounds pretty good to me, but honestly, I'll be surprised if the final margin is around eight points. Either Mizzou wins easily, as they have most of the season, or this is a one-possession game down to the wire. And the longer the game is close, the better for Illinois -- for better or worse, the Illini have played six games decided by single digits this season, while Mizzou has only played one that was even slightly close down the stretch (Villanova). Mizzou responded well to adversity in that game, but Illinois has more experience in that regard.

Being that I'm an optimist, I'll pick the more Mizzou-friendly of the two Mizzou scenarios above and say that the final is something in the neighborhood of Mizzou 78, Illinois 62. But if the first few Mizzou 3's rattle out, I'll start getting awfully nervous. Bring home Win No. 12, boys.