Illini Basketball: Braggin’ Rights Game Preview vs Missouri Tigers

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mizzou illini basketball braggin rights

How bad does Illini basketball need this win over the Missouri Tigers in the annual Braggin’ Rights game?

We’ll put it this way-

by the time they take the court against Mizzou it will have been 297 days since Illinois has beaten a Power 5 conference opponent in either men’s basketball or football. The last time we saw an Illini team achieve a victory of this designation, in either of the two revenue sports, it was way back on March 1st.

illini basketball braggin' rights

It was on Senior Night against Michigan State.

Yes, very ironic, given how exceedingly dominant the Spartans are right now. Coincidentally, the last power five foe vanquished by football was…wait for it…Michigan State, in November of 2016. 

Although the University has substantially upgraded at the Athletic Director, Football and Men’s Basketball Head Coaching positions over the past couple of years, the culture of excessive losing has unfortunately persisted. Illini basketball is 0-5 against KenPom top-100 teams this season.

Illinois really, and I mean REALLY needs this game in St. Louis to try and salvage anything at all of value from the pre-conference slate this season. B1G ply resumes January 5th, when Illinois travels to #14 Minnesota. Should Illini basketball lose here to Mizzou, the next opportunity to end this slide will come in that aforementioned game against the Gophers.

Storylines Aplenty

With both programs being so down in recent years, this game severely decreased in relevance and appeal, and attendance followed suit. 

That all changed this offseason as both programs brought in new coaches, and one team tampered and then poached a recruit from the other. If there’s one specific person who’s made for Braggin’ Rights, it’s Mizzou Center Jeremiah Tilmon (9.8 points, 5.1 rebounds), whose individual story, at least to Illini basketball fans, was essentially the lyrics to Katy Perry “Hot ‘n’ Cold”

“You’re hot, then you’re cold, you’re yes then you’re no, you’re in, then you’re out.”

As this is a game in St. Louis, and we’re reporting on an East St. Louis native, we really should be referencing Nelly lyrics instead. 

We’ll work on that, as there’s got to be a tune recorded by Cornell Haynes that analogizes well to a story of recruitment/signing/de-committment/flipping to a rival. 

jeremiah-tilmon

By the way, Illini basketball fans, DO NOT TWEET at him this week/weekend. Don’t tweet at him ever- no matter the outcome Saturday night. Leave him be.

Additionally, new Mizzou coach Cuonzo Martin is also from East St. Louis, and he was reportedly approached by Illinois. Although that report was later discredited as fake news. Of course, most coaching search coverage is only mere #covfefe.

With Mizzou off to their best start since 2014, the atmosphere at whatever the arena is called this year should be the best it has been in several years. Unfortunately, this game will not have the nation’s #1 overall recruit in Michael Porter Jr.  He had been considered the favorite to be the #1 overall pick in the NBA Draft this June, but now that he’s out for the season (back), his stock will obviously drop.

Still, he’s a blue chip pro prospect, and don’t be surprised if his college career ends with his having played only two whole minutes.

cuonzo martin

Mizzou Tigers (Sagarin #26, KenPom #45, RPI #8, seven votes in Coaches Poll) Preview:

“They destroyed us in the post,” Illini basketball coach Brad Underwood said of New Mexico State after his side lost 74-69 to the Aggies this past Saturday. Even without Porter, the Tigers will have a huge edge up front in this match-up, and Martin will no doubt try to exploit that with Tilmon, the 6’11” Jontay Porter (Michael’s brother, who who leads the team in rebounding) and others.

The 6’7″ Jordan Barnett is tied for the team lead in scoring with Kassius Robertson, and second on the team in rebounding. 

Mizzou is much improved this season, as the SEC as a whole. It’s not just Kentucky and a bunch of guys (sometimes Florida) anymore. Texas A&M are a force, and Tennessee are very solid.  

michael porter jr 

Illini Basketball Sagarin #72, KenPom #97, RPI #172 Preview:

Yes, the Brad Underwood era is off to a really rough start, but you have to love the fact that he is much more of a straight shooter than most college basketball coaches. He’s a no-nonsense kind of leader, and he doesn’t have much time for press conference platitudes. 

In an era where simple facts are under assault and more people are doubting basic truths, it’s refreshing to not hear a lot of coachspeak drivel at Illini basketball media opportunities now.

“One thing I will keep telling them is that losing is unacceptable,” Underwood said Saturday night.

“There are winners and losers in life. You have to learn to compete, you have to learn to fight. Sometimes, you have to be not the most likable person in the locker room and be confrontational.”

“At some point, there has to be some leadership. There has to be some internal pride.”

brad underwood

Underwood is stepping up and taking accountability for the dismal 8-5 start to the season too. Again, it’s nice to hear this, given how even something as basic as consequences for actions are being attacked in this country.

“It’s my job to put them in areas to succeed and be successful. I’m obviously not doing that,” Underwood continued. 

“I got to do a better job of getting guys to execute late in the game. That’s on me.”

Two and a half weeks ago, Underwood called out the poor Allstate Arena attendance for the Illini game at Big Ten rival Northwestern.

He didn’t do the same at the United Center, where less than 5,700 turned out, but he didn’t go verbal version of a press release either. 

brad-underwood illini basketball

“This is a game that we take a lot of pride in playing,” said Underwood.

“We have the greatest fans ever. I think we’re drawing 12,000 or close to it on average in Champaign. I get it.

“In a perfect world I would have liked to see this at 1 in the afternoon so there weren’t so many Christmas parties, but I’m not overly concerned about that. I’m more concerned about getting my basketball team to be better.”

Hopefully, Braggin’ Rights has a much better turnout than the moribund atmosphere at the UC this past weekend. It should, as this is your bowl game this year, Illinois fans. Football is obviously not in the postseason this year, and it’s crystal clear they won’t be earning a bowl big again for awhile, so if you’re going to get up for something, it’s this.

Hopefully, Illini basketball can overcome the two worst traits that have reared their ugly heads too often this season- coming out of the gates sleepwalking and melting down late.

Also, you have the unforced errors. I don’t even want to bring up in-bounds passes at this point. In the words of ’90s alternative band Lit “I see it’s clear to me I am my own worst enemy.”

That’s Illini basketball in a nutshell in 2017-18, and if they can overcome these three issues (slow starts, self-inflicted wounds, closing the deal) for 40 minutes, then they could pull off the upset here.

Prediction: Missouri 83, Illinois 74

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net and TheBank.News, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for the Washington Times, NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, currently contributes regularly to WGN CLTV and the Tribune company’s blogging community Chicago Now.

Follow him on TwitterInstagramSound Cloud, LinkedIn and YouTube.

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