Braggin' Rights: tonight
Ready or not. 6pm CT, ESPN2.
Illinois has been powered by the dual scoring threat of junior guard Malcolm Hill and junior guard Kendrick Nunn, who average 18.5 and 18.4 points per game, respectively.
Graduate transfer forward Mike Thorne, Jr. leads the Illini on the glass with his stout 8.4 rebounds per game. Thorne has seven more offensive rebounds (22) than the next closest Illini player (Hill, 15).
The Illini started the season 3-5, but its four consecutive wins have boosted the squad back above the .500 mark. Losses in that stretch included at Providence (Nov. 18, 60-59) and vs. Iowa State (Nov. 28, 84-73).
Freshmen Cullen VanLeer and Kevin Puryear are already eager to step into the divided arena. The two in-state products have been tuning in every December for years — even the past few when the rest of the country hasn’t been paying as close attention.
"Usually at Christmas, at one of my grandma’s house, we always watch it," said VanLeer, a Pacific native. "But I’m really looking forward to being a part of it."
"I always watched the game on TV, so I know how big this is for the state of Missouri, the university," added Puryear, a Blue Springs native. "I’m going to give it all I’ve got."
There wasn’t much second-year Mizzou coach Kim Anderson could count on from his team through 10 games — other than a pileup of fouls and shoddy offensive rebounding — but he’s buying into his 6-4 rookie. [...]
"He’s got confidence," Anderson said of VanLeer. "We had some guys struggling. I kind of made the decision (against N.C. State) I’m going to put him in there. He’s so smart." [...]
He understands spacing in the halfcourt and finds room along the wing to shoot in rhythm. His passes find their target almost without flaw. In 159 minutes he’s turned the ball over just three times. He’s only gotten to the free-throw line once and has only eight assists, but he’s not the defensive liability some might have expected.
"While maybe the quickness factor figures in a little bit," Anderson said, "defensively he’s in the right spot."
Size was always going to be an issue for this team. And with Southeastern Conference play only a few weeks away, it’s going to become even more glaring. There’s nothing that can be done about it this season, but the coaching staff has recognized this flaw and dedicated next season’s recruiting class to fixing the frontcourt issue: Willie Jackson, Reed Nikko and Mitchell Smith are 6-foot-6, 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-10, respectively.
Illinois freshman forward Michael Finke stands 6-foot-10 and has averaged 14.3 points per game over his past four games. He has the potential to disrupt Missouri’s interior defense, especially if the Tigers are too focused on the Fighting Illini’s sharpshooting guards.
Not the most amazing week in recruiting
Two decommitments in one night certainly set certain parts of the internet ablaze, but a) the folks at PowerMizzou were warning about these two for a while, and b) I mean, when either your position coach or the guy recruiting you leaves the staff (or both do), then you're going to start looking around a little bit. It wouldn't make sense not to. We know that OL commit Trystan Castillo is getting looks from other schools (and that Trevour Simms is apparently committed to both Mizzou and Illinois at the same time, which, uh, will have to work itself out down the line), but if these are all the decommits/canceled reservations Mizzou ends up with, that might not be too bad for a coaching change. And hey, more scholarships to play with in the January rush now, I guess.
Post-Dispatch: Two more Mizzou targets drop pledges
The Trib (David Morrison): DE prospect Martin de-commits from MU but keeps Tigers atop his list
The Trib (David Morrison): RB prospect Darius Anderson de-commits from MU, opens recruitment
David Morrison finally stopped being lazy and finished up the last two remaining snap count pieces. So now his offseason analysis begins. That's usually some fun work.