Preview & Prediction: By Raphielle Johnson
Holiday season means one additional thing for fans of #25 Missouri (9-1) and Illinois (10-1) basketball: time for the Busch Braggin’ Rights Game in St. Louis. The Fighting Illini own a 19-8 advantage in such games (26-12 overall series lead) and have won the last eight meetings in this series. It’s about time for Mike Anderson’s team to end that streak, and they may have the team capable of doing just that. The Tigers like to play a style of basketball that they refer to as “The Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball”, and many a foe have fallen victim to their frenetic pace. Missouri boasts a turnover margin of +7.5, which is fourth best in the nation. And for further proof that they’ve been far more comfortable in that style than the majority of their opponents, look at the Tigers’ assists and assist-to-turnover numbers.
Just over twenty assists per game and an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.69, both numbers that rank second in the nation in their respective categories. The keys in this hot start to the 2008-09 campaign have been a starting five that’s been the same for all eleven games and a bench that has a number of bodies to turn to in order to give the leaders a rest. Four of the five starters are averaging at least two assists per game, led by guards Zaire Taylor (3.5) and J.T. Tiller (3.3). The primary options on the offensive end are a pair of senior forwards: the versatile DeMarre Carroll (17.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg) and Leo Lyons (16.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg). And you can’t forget about senior Matt Lawrence when accounting for the first five; his percentages are a little down this season, but his one truly bad shooting performance (3-13 from the field) coincided with their lone defeat (75-71 to Xavier in Puerto Rico).
As for Bruce Weber’s Illini, they won’t look to play at the same pace as the Tigers in this one but they don’t lack for players that can put some points on the scoreboard. While guards Demetri McCamey and Trent Meachem are both averaging double figures in scoring so far, the story in Illinois’ 9-1 start has to be the play of interior players Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis. Both sophomores, the two have stepped up to provide a presence that opponents must account for just one year removed from spot duty (both averaged just over ten minutes per game last season). In fact, Tisdale was named MVP of the tournament that the Illini won down on South Padre Island last month.
Another good sign for Illinois heading into this game is the fact that they do a good job of taking care of the basketball. Chester Frazier leads the team in assists with 5.5 per game, and overall this team averages nineteen assists per game and has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.45. That second number, along with their average of 13.6 turnovers per game, will tell the story of this game. If they can handle the Missouri pressure and control the tempo they’ve got a really good chance to move their streak in the series to nine. Illinois has the athletes to play with some pace, especially with the addition of Kentucky transfer Alex Legion (six points in his debut against Detroit). But as John Wooden once said, “Be quick but don’t hurry.”
Turnovers (and points off of them) will play a big role in who wins this game. Neither team would be considered to be dominant on the glass either, so look for the rebounding to be about even on the evening. Does Illinois have enough bodies to handle the Missouri pressure without committing errors due to fatigue? The addition of Legion couldn’t have come at a better time, but it may not be enough to win this game. Look for the Tigers to end eight-plus years of frustration in a game that will be worthy of your attention in the final shopping hours before Christmas.
Winner: Missouri Margin: 1-4 pts.
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About Raphielle Johnson
College sports has always been a source of excitement for Raphielle Johnson, be it through watching, writing, or taking a shot in the dark and walking onto a college football team just to live the life (Arizona Football, 2001). Raphielle is the assistant editor, providing his own work in addition to helping out with the site operations. When not writing for CHN, you can usually find him in front of a television set watching one of many pay-per-view sports packages that he owns. He can be followed at twitter.com/raphiellej.
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