MU-Illinois (8 p.m. ESPN2): They call Mizzou/Illinois the Braggin’ Rights game. Wednesday night in St. Louis, MU can win Braggin’ Rights for the whole Big 12. It was thought for a time, you’ll recall, Missouri might leave for the Big Ten, but the Big Ten did not see Missouri as enough of a leader or legend to deserve admission. But, as Kansas coach Bill Self pointed out, that was all about football.
This is basketball season, and it’s time to see if No. 9 Missouri (10-1) can override its biggest legend of a) getting owned in this game and b) not living up to expectations in general. No. 21 Illinois (10-2), for its part, has primarily been a leader in failing to land the best nearby basketball talent.Still, Braggin’ Rights is usually fun, as the games are close and the rivalry is more natural and less forced than in football (which is why it has lasted for 30 years and not four). Missouri and Illinois fans want so badly to hang out at the top of their respective leagues, when doing the same in football is a much more unlikely task. (But wait, what about the Rose Bowl? Ha.)
Anyway, Missouri won last year, 81-68, for the first time in a decade.
The Tigers cannot play freshman guard Phil Pressey (broken finger), a highly touted though largely untested point guard who is nonetheless an exciting playmaker. However, MU will bring back sophomore guard Michael Dixon, who was suspended last week for undisclosed reasons and missed the last couple games.
Illinois often operates largely in the halfcourt (certainly more than MU does) but it’s also an athletic, fast-moving team despite several of the players’ height. Senior Mike Tisdale is 7’1″ and far taller than any significant Tiger, yet his minutes might be limited if the game moves as quickly as Missouri would like. Senior guard Demetri McCamey (the shortest starter at 6’3″) is once again Illinois’ primary scorer and also averages seven assists a game.
Missouri won last year’s game despite rebounding ineffectively because Kim English (24 points) and Dixon (16) both shot well. Illinois will start a very similar starting lineup to last year’s, all five of whom scored at least 11 points in last year’s game.
The Illini last played in a rather embarrassing 54-51 loss to Illinois-Chicago. Missouri will be the last nonconference game before Illinois opens its Big Ten season at Iowa.
Note: When both teams are ranked in this series, Illinois is 6-0.
UT-Michigan State (6 p.m. ESPN2): The No. 18 Longhorns (9-2) got a nice win Saturday against UNC, but now enter one of the louder road venues in college basketball, East Lansing’s Breslin Center. Texas has won three straight since a peculiar 17-point loss at USC. In that game, only J’Covan Brown and Jordan Hamilton scored in double figures.The No. 12 Spartans (8-3) are a popular Final Four pick. This would be their third straight trip. However, that is not important right now. Led by point guard Kalin Lucas and shooting guard Durrell Summers, Michigan State is very well tested. The Spartans already have three losses, but to UConn, Duke and Syracuse. They have also beaten Washington. They should be excellently prepared for the Big Ten, if they weren’t already with so many veterans.
How did Syracuse beat MSU by 14? The Orange got to the free throw line (making 22 out of 29 attempts). Now, Texas is not as big up front as Syracuse (6′ 9″ Rick Jackson, 7’0″ Fab Melo), but Gary Johnson and the rest of the Texas team must be active rebounders. Michigan State is regularly very tough, willing to take and dish out contact. So if Texas doesn’t embrace that, the chances of winning drop considerably.
I would like Texas’ chances much better in this game at a neutral site or at home. At MSU, the young Longhorns will have to be at least as good as they’ve been all year.
Note: The two met this time last year, with Texas winning 79-68. The Horns moved to 11-0 while the Spartans were 9-3. Of course, MSU ended up in the Final Four, and Texas lost to Wake Forest in the NCAA first round.
Win or lose, Missouri and Texas will be better off having played these games away from home. Athletes and coaches say outside expectations have no effect on them, but plenty of evidence suggests that’s not always true. Missouri was never highly ranked last season, and the Illinois game has not always worked out well. Both Missouri and Texas need sound, complete games to earn big wins tomorrow night.