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Illinois Basketball Looks For Braggin’ Rights Revenge



Dec 17, 2023; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach Brad Underwood reacts during the second half against the Colgate Raiders at State Farm Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Illinois Basketball team has had a good non-conference season so far. Despite being unable to down the two biggest fish, Marquette and Tennessee, the Illini have taken care of business everywhere else and picked up a strong win against Florida Atlantic in NYC. They were also having a good non-conference season last year with huge wins over Texas and UCLA, until Braggin’ Rights. The Missouri Tigers thoroughly outplayed the Illini, and the margin was over 30 points. It was a shocking performance that further exposed the cracks in the Illini’s gilded record at that point. In fact, Missouri has generally owned this fixture, winning 4 of the last 5 despite the Illini being favored in most.

1. Best Served Hot

While there are a lot of reasons it was such a blowout last year, the common thread from this bad stretch has been that the lesser-talented Tigers have taken it to the Illini. It’s hard to measure want-to, but it’s felt like it means more to Missouri than Illinois. With last year’s embarrassment still somewhat fresh, there should be nothing ‘just another game’ about their effort. This is their last non-conference test (Farleigh Dickinson provides one last tune-up before Big Ten play.) If the Illini can put together a strong performance, they enter a mediocre Big ten with a great opportunity to rack up wins and secure a good maybe even great seed.

The Illini are bigger, stronger and more athletic at basically every position. They need to combine that advantage with the aggression to put the Tigers away. This Missouri team isn’t a complete pushover, but they’re not the solid squad they had last year.

2. Weak Links

Last year the Tigers used Kobe Brown to seek out and attack the Illini’s weaker defenders in their switching scheme. It worked perfectly, leading to either Brown scoring or finding wide-open teammates. This year the Illini have their share of matchup hunters. Missouri is one of the better defenses in the country at forcing turnovers, and also has been one of the better shot-blocking teams so far. Illinois Basketball will need to find ways to attack this Missouri defense without turning it over. Thankfully, their matchup-hunting style is generally a low-turnover approach. On paper, the easiest way for Illinois to drop this one is by giving it away. The Tigers have an old and tough perimeter, so Illinois will need to pick their spots.

Missouri is also one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the country and is 323rd in the country in rebounds per game. As long as Illinois basketball can get shots up (not even in) they can punish the Tigers on the glass.

3. In Position

With almost a week between this game and their game against Colgate, a lot has happened around the country. The three Big East giants all lost their conference opener to unranked teams. Undefeated Oklahoma lost to North Carolina. Baylor was embarrassed by Michigan State and then lost again to Duke. The door for an entry into the top ten is forty minutes away. Most bracketologists have them somewhere from a 4 seed to a 2 seed. As mentioned, the Big Ten isn’t quite as deep as previous years, which should allow the Ilini to pad their resume. Falling at the last hurdle would be a big disappointment. They’ve done the hard work so far, and as long as they stick to their strengths, they should have bragging rights for a year.

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Brian is a former sports writer for the Daily Illini who has been covering Illinois Basketball for over 5 years. Brian is now the lead basketball reporter for Armchair Illini, the go-to source for Illinois athletics news. He has had work published on Bleacher Report, Verbal Commits, USA Today and more.