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Missouri vs. Illinois: Winners and Losers

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In every game, there are winners and losers, this is where we decipher between the two.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri vs Illinois Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Instead of writing a boring recap of the annual Braggin’ Rights game, I’ve decided to bless your eyes with another edition of winners and losers. As usual, I will shoulder the burden of choosing the winners and losers of the previous Mizzou Basketball game.

Following an inexplicable loss at home versus Eastern Illinois, the Tigers had an opportunity to quiet the naysayers during the annual Braggin’ Rights game versus eastern border “rival” Illinois. Simply put, Missouri didn’t quiet any of the critics, falling by a score of 75-66. If anything, their performance resulted in more disgruntled fans.

Choosing “winners” from last night’s loss was a real struggle, but two players, Jordan Geist and Kevin Puryear, deserved the prestigious honor of being selected as one of Tramel Raggs’ “Winners.”

NCAA Basketball: Missouri vs Illinois Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Winner: Jordan Geist

After looking lost and a bit overwhelmed through the first eight games of the season, Geist appears to have finally found his footing. The Missouri-Arizona game served as coming out for the JUCO transfer following the apparent head injury to Terrence Phillips. Geist embraced the moment by providing the Tigers with a nice spark down the stretch, though by that time the game was well in hand.

Since then, Geist has continued to build upon his opportunities. Geist’s growth was on display versus Illinois. Jordan provided the Tigers with 12 pts (4-6 FG), 2 assists, 2 rebounds and a steal in just 17 minutes. And his greatest contributions still reside in the areas that aren’t tracked in box scores. Geist strapped up defensively, which helped create steal opportunities for his teammates .

In the second-half, Geist was tasked with guarding the Illini’s Malcolm Hill. By my calculations, he held Hill to zero field goals after Hill had torched Jordan Barnett and Cullen VanLeer, respectively.

Geist came into the season as an unknown, but now an argument could be made that he should be starting, especially if he can continue to efficiently score 8-10 points as he’s done the last two games. Which makes him a winner in my book.

Winner: Kevin Puryear

Following a slow start, Kevin Puryear has become Missouri’s most consistent player. Puryear has taken a huge step forward in the leadership department this season. Thus far we have seen a passionate side of KP that just wasn’t there last season. We see him calling for the ball in clutch late-game situations and making plays, going up in traffic and making shots through contact.

I have gone on record saying that Puryear would be a sixth or seventh man on a better team. While I stand by that statement, I think that Puryear has taken it upon himself to step up and be the guy for the Tigers. During Braggin’ Rights, Kevin led Missouri with 17 points and nine rebounds. When the game heated up during the last 5 minutes, it was Puryear that started demanding the ball and putting in work down low.

Puryear's displeasure with losing has been very apparent lately, which is a good thing. There have been too many occasions lately where the players and coaching staff seem unbothered following a loss. Puryear has taken over the captain role by translating his frustrations into being more aggressive which has ultimately increased his productivity. Now if only the rest of the team would follow suit.

Loser: KJ Walton

KJ Walton’s Twitter

I chose KJ Walton as a loser because of his situation more than his play. Walton is one of the most talented players on this team but hasn’t received a significant amount of minutes. Yes, I’m aware that KJ’s game has limitations due to his inconsistency and his struggles shooting the ball. But name a player on this Missouri roster that doesn’t fit this description. You can’t.

Walton has always been painted as a hardworking player who does what the coaches ask, but his lack of minutes makes you wonder what’s really going on. Against Illinois Cullen VanLeer (35 minutes) and Frankie Hughes (21 minutes) combined to score 8 points on 3/19 shooting, while Walton was granted a measly 3 minutes.

Loser: Cullen VanLeer

I’d like to start by saying that I don’t blame VanLeer for Missouri’s 5-6 record. I also don’t blame him for playing 32 minutes a game — what is he supposed to do if the coach keeps him out there?

CVL finds himself in a tough spot at Missouri. The coach loves him, but due to his high minutes and lack of visible production, fans are making him the scapegoat.

VanLeer seems like a great guy and a hard worker, but it’s becoming increasingly apparent he just isn’t cut out for this level of basketball. Anderson loves to talk about how CVL is a lights-out shooter and a coach’s son or how he knows where everyone should be on the court. But instead of playing like Doug McDermott at Creighton, he’s been a poor man’s Nikola Mirotic.

Loser: Kim Anderson

I wanted this to work out for Kim Anderson, I swear I did. But I have finally seen enough. We’ve seen and heard it all these last 2.5 years. From blaming Haith to my favorite excuse that he just needs to get rid of the bad apples and get his guys in there. Well, three years in and the state of Missouri’s basketball program is worse than it was in year 1 of the KA experience.

I’m 100% sure that Anderson knows the game a hell of a lot better than any of us, but that doesn’t mean that he gets to insult our intelligence by trying to justify KJ Walton playing three minutes while VanLeer gets 35 minutes. You don’t have to be James Naismith to realize that CVL just isn’t getting it done.

It appears that Coach Anderson has struggled to connect with the type of players he needs to be successful at this level. He seems to butt heads with the higher rated players who have entered the program, most of whom have transferred at this point.

Kim Anderson is a good coach; you have to be in order to win a national championship at any level. But at the Division I level, you have to be more than a good coach. You have to be able to connect with and rally your players when times get tough. Kim Anderson hasn’t done that.

Fan support is at an all-time low, so with every loss, Coach Anderson finds himself one step closer to being unemployed.