Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Missouri Tigers Preview and Pick – Point Spread

Illinois Fighting Illini (8-3 SU, 3-6 ATS) vs. Missouri Tigers (7-3 SU, 3-3 ATS), 9:30 p.m. EST, Wednesday, December 23, 2009, Scottrade Center, St. Louis, Mo. TV: ESPN2
by Ryno of

Point Spread: Illinois +2/Missouri -2
Over/Under: 148.5

The annual rivalry between the Illinois Fighting Illini and Missouri Tigers known as Braggin’ Rights hasn’t been much of a rivalry this decade. Illinois has won this matchup, played each year in St. Louis, nine straight times, including 75-59 last year. The last time Missouri won was in 1999.

Right now, both of these teams could use a quality win on a neutral court, so as usual this game will be intense. Missouri is 0-2 on the road this season but undefeated at home. The Tigers are 1-1 on a neutral court with a win over Old Dominion and a loss to Richmond in the South Padre Island Invitational. Their road losses came at Vanderbilt and Oral Roberts. Since their one-point loss at Oral Roberts, the Tigers have won two straight at home over Fairleigh Dickinson and Arkansas Pine Bluff.

Illinois has played some tough competition already this season. The Illini started off 4-0 before losing two straight to Utah and Bradley, both on a neutral court in Las Vegas. Then, they got a huge comeback victory over Clemson in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, followed by some more nice wins over Boise State, Vanderbilt and Western Michigan. But in their last game, the Illini lost by three at Georgia, 70-67.

Illinois has a balanced attack with all five starters averaging double-digit points per game. Demetri McCamey leads the way with 14.2 points per game. He also leads the team in assists with 5.5 per game, and is shooting over 50 percent from the field and over 40 percent from 3-point territory. Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale form a nice inside duo for the Illini. Davis is athletic and mobile with the ability to knock down long jumpers. Tisdale is a lanky 7-footer with a nice hook shot and the ability to change opposing players’ shots around the basket. D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul are a pair of freshmen who start alongside each other in the backcourt. Both of them have been very good thus far. Richardson is averaging 10.8 points and 3.0 assists per game, and is shooting 53.8 percent from beyond the arc. Paul isn’t shooting nearly as well as Richardson but he is scoring just as well with 10.4 points per game.

Missouri is a team that is still trying to find its identity after losing some of its best players last season. This season, the Tigers have been led by Kim English’s 16.1 points per game. Marcus Denmon, Laurence Bowers, J.T. Tiller and Zaire Taylor are all averaging between 9.0 and 10.5 points per game. The Tigers have already gone through eight different starters this season as Mike Anderson tries to figure out what his best combination of players is for the rest of the season.

Missouri is a team that likes to use its full-court press as much as possible. It will be interesting to see how Illinois’s freshmen guards handle the pressure, but Richardson and Paul are good enough ball-handlers that they shouldn’t have too many problems. McCamey is also a very good ball-handler who will likely have the ball in hands more than the freshmen will against the pressure.

The Tigers may have some problems defending the Illini big men down low. Bowers and Ramsey are 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-9, respectively, but both players are very fragile at barely over 200 pounds. Justin Safford (6-foot-8, 230 pounds) can also play some minutes down low. But Tisdale is very big and very tough to defend.

Last season, the Illini out-rebounded the Tigers 32-25, and that was when Missouri had DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons. Without them, the Illini should be able to dominate on the boards and in the paint. Illinois shot 57 percent from the field in the matchup last season. A lot of that came from layups off Missouri’s press, so the Tigers will have to step up their defense this season to keep this one close. The Illini shot 7-for-16 from beyond the arc, including a 4-for-6 mark for McCamey, who finished with 20 points. Carroll scored 22 of Missouri’s 59 points, and Taylor was the only other Tiger in double figures with 11 points. Missouri will have to play better defense and find a way to score some points this time around.

Ryno’s Pick: Just looking at the matchup, Illinois has the clear advantage. The Illini have better players and have done just as well or better against a tougher schedule than Missouri has faced this season. Then, look at the Braggin’ Rights game last year and it’s evident that Illinois dominated and is capable of doing the same thing this year. To put the icing on the cake, Illinois has won nine straight in this rivalry, and it doesn’t look like this is the year for Missouri to end that streak. Take Illinois to win and cover the spread.