Beat writer Marcus Jackson, who missed on his predictions for the USC and Gonzaga games, breaks down today's Braggin' Rights matchup between No. 10 Illinois and No. 12 MIssouri (5 p.m., ESPN2)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams So. 6-1 11.5
G D.J. Richardson Sr. 6-3 11.5
G Brandon Paul Sr. 6-4 18.8
F Tyler Griffey Sr. 6-9 8.9
C Nnanna Egwu So. 6-11 5.8
FYI: The guard trio of Abrams, Paul and Richardson has accounted for 54.4 percent of the team’s scoring, 72.2 percent of the assists and 36 percent of the rebounds.
OFF THE BENCH
G Joseph Bertrand Jr. 6-6 8.6
F Sam McLaurin Sr. 6-8 4.5
F Myke Henry So. 6-6 4.3
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Phil Pressey Jr. 5-11 12.3
G Keion Bell Sr. 6-4 9.2
F Laurence Bowers Sr. 6-8 16.3
F Stefan Jankovic Fr. 6-11 4.6
C Alex Oriakhi Sr. 6-9 10.6
FYI: With 100 more assists and 42 more steals, Pressey would move into the top spot on Missouri’s career list in both categories.
OFF THE BENCH
G Negus Webster-Chan Fr. 6-7 5.8
G Earnest Ross Jr. 6-5 9.8
F Tony Criswell Jr. 6-9 5.9
Site: Scottrade Center (22,153), St. Louis.
TV: ESPN2 — Dave Flemming (play-by-play) and Jimmy Dykes (analyst) have the call.
Radio: Brian Barnhart (play-by-play) and former Illini Jerry Hester (expert analysis) have the call on the Illini Sports Network on WDWS 1400-AM, WDAN 1490-AM, WHMS 97.5-FM, WDNL 102.1-FM and WPXN 104.9-FM.
Series: Illinois leads 27-15. Last meeting: Missouri 78, Illinois 74, Dec. 22, 2011.
FYI: Missouri has won three straight in the series, but the Illini own a 20-11 advantage in games played in St. Louis, highlighted by a nine-game win streak from 2000 to ’08.
Marcus Jackson’s storylines
The Illini will have an advantage against the Tigers in terms of playing in the electric atmosphere that the 50-50 split in fans provides at the Scottrade Center. Pressey and Bowers are the only Missouri players who have played in the Braggin’ Rights game, and Bowers missed last season with an injury. Six current Illini saw action in last year’s game. “We can try to use that to our advantage, but they’re not just going to come in and hand us the trophy, so we’re going to have to go out and play hard every possession,” Paul said.
Prior to Gonzaga two weeks ago, Illinois coaches and players raved about the Bulldogs’ seemingly endless number of quality big men. Missouri’s big men are solid, but its backcourt is potentially the toughest the Illini will face, led by Pressey, the SEC’s preseason Player of the Year. The group got better with the addition of Oregon transfer Jabari Brown, who became eligible in Missouri’s previous game against South Carolina State. “My gut tells me (it’s probably the best they’ve played), in terms of the collection and the number of guards and perimeters,” Groce said.
Missouri’s rebounding margin of plus-13.3 ranks third in the country. Illinois’ figure of plus-3.8 ranks 10th in the Big Ten. The Tigers’ prowess on the glass figures to give the Illini trouble. “I’m concerned about their size. The biggest thing is the rebounding; that’s what I’m most concerned about when it comes to their size,” Groce said. “We’ve got to do a good job of doing what we do. We’ve got to block out well, we’ve got to be willing to hit people when the shot goes up. We’ve got to snatch our fair share. I think that’s a big key to the game.”
Prediction: Illinois 79, Missouri 78
The Illini have a few things working in their favor entering the rivalry tilt. They are 8-0 when they enter the game ranked in the Top 10. Also, since Lou Henson and Norm Stewart orchestrated the get-together, all first-year Illinois coaches (Lon Kruger, Bill Self, Bruce Weber) won their first game in the series. Groce is looking to join that list and in the process become the first coach in program history to start his career at Illinois with 13 consecutive wins. Illinois quieted some doubters after the win at Gonzaga. A win tonight could go a long way in earning this team a few more believers. (N-G prediction record: 10-2)