Asmussen | Illini-Mizzou rivalry is heating up

Asmussen | Illini-Mizzou rivalry is heating up

Who do you hate?

For Illinois fans, it depends on the year. Or the sport.

There is the always-obvious NCAA. The folks who put Illinois on probation a few times. But the school has stayed out of jail for a long time. Did you know the NCAA offices have moved? The Overland Park, Kan. dateline is no longer a reason to say "Uh-oh."

Back in the day, in football, the bitter rival was Michigan. Never mind that the Wolverines had others ahead on their own list. Like Ohio State, Michigan State and Notre Dame.

You've seen the T-shirts. They don't read "Muv Lichigan."

In basketball, Public Enemy No. 1 has jumped around. From Indiana (thanks Bob Knight) to Iowa (thanks Bruce Pearl) back to Indiana (thanks Kelvin Sampson and Eric Gordon).

There has been other hate-wannabes. Like North Carolina and Michigan basketball.

Eye on the Tigers

There's an oldie but goody moving up the must-loath list: Missouri.

A two-way disdain between Illinois and the neighbors to the west has always existed.

Fired-up Norm Stewart and legend Lou Henson had some classic battles over the years. The annual Braggin' Rights game in St. Louis brings out the best in the teams and, at times, the worst in the fans. There is some yelling back and forth and an occasional beer spilled.

Nothing tragic. Just good Chrismastime fun.

The feelings waned for a few years. After four straight wins by the Tigers in the final four seasons of the Bruce Weber era at Illinois, Illinois has now won five in a row. Missouri wasn't competitive and attendance dropped to a series-low 12,409 in 2016.

That was a blip. The series is alive and well. Last December, 21,000-plus showed up two days before Christmas.

Heating up

Missouri changed the dynamic of the series on March 15, 2017, when it hired former East St. Louis Lincoln and Purdue standout Cuonzo Martin.

The new coach didn't waste any time, bringing in top recruit Michael Porter Jr. Not a big deal to Illinois fans. Porter was going to spend a season somewhere, and it wasn't going to be in Champaign.

The bigger deal came later. Illinois signee Jeremiah Tilmon from East. St. Louis asked out of his commitment. The coach who signed him, John Groce, had been fired and replaced by Brad Underwood. Illinois let him go and Tilmon moved to Missouri. Awk-ward.

Tilmon started against Illinois on Dec. 23, scoring seven points and pulling down seven rebounds. Illinois fans booed him during pregame introductions and every time he touched the ball. Heck, they might have even booed hm in the parking lot.

It's about to get worse. Starting in the 2019 game, Illinois fans will have more reasons to jeer the Tigers. On Saturday, Mark Smith announced he is transferring to Missouri. The former Edwardsville star won't be eligible until next season. Expect the Illinois fans to taunt. A lot.

The key to the whole deal is to keep it reasonable. You might be mad at Smith because he left your favorite program. But there was a point not very long ago when Illinois fans were pro-Smith. He picked the Illinois over several top programs and seemed to have the kind of game that would thrive in the Big Ten.

It didn't. Smith struggled and looked for another option. He hopes the answer is in Columbia.

Tilmon remains on the team and will be the focus of the Illinois fans' anger. There is no love for Martin. And Smith will certainly hear it on the Missouri bench.

Nothing wrong with having a team you love to hate.

More good news: the dormant Illinois-Missouri football series, last played in 2010 is being renewed. For four years.

Get ready for the downside: the series doesn't start until 2026. First game is at Memorial Stadium. Let me get you started: booooooooooo ...

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.