Missouri looks to extend its winning streak to six games when it travels to St. Louis on Saturday to take on Illinois in the 37th annual Braggin’ Rights matchup at Scottrade Center. The Tigers are looking to complete a perfect December for the first time since 2011-12, while the Fighting Illini are hoping to bounce back from last Saturday’s loss to New Mexico State in Chicago.
Illinois started the season 6-0 but has struggled since hitting the road, dropping all four contests it has played away from Champaign. Junior forward Leron Black leads the team in scoring at 13.9 points per game, followed closely by guard Aaron Jordan (12.1) and forward Michael Finke (11.8) as the Illini are averaging 82.5. Missouri can put points on the board as well under first-year coach Cuonzo Martin, as it is averaging 80.2 per contest. Seniors Kassius Robertson (14.5 points) and Jordan Barnett (14.4) lead the way, but the Tigers have some balance, with six players averaging at least 7.5 points.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN2
ABOUT ILLINOIS (8-5): The Illini have dropped five games so far this season and have been in every one of them in the closing minutes, but they were unable to pull out a victory. Two of the losses were in overtime, in which they led, while the other three saw Illinois get within at least a basket in the final three minutes of the contest. Coach Brad Underwood has been able to get his team to score at a greater rate this season, but finding a closer that will take - and make - the big shots down the stretch is a need for this team, especially with the rest of the Big Ten Conference schedule looming.
ABOUT MISSOURI (10-2): The biggest reason for the Tigers’ success under Martin has been their offense, which has become better at moving the ball and finding easy shots. Missouri enters Saturday’s contest ranked 54th in the country in assists with 16.6 per game, registering them on 61.6 percent of its baskets. Freshman point guard Blake Harris has recorded 39 assists, including 12 and just three turnovers in his last two contests, Robertson and junior guard Jordan Geist each have notched at least 30 and freshman forward Jontay Porter has collected 26.
1. Illinois ranks sixth in the nation in made free throws (234) and ninth in attempts (314).
2. Missouri’s 118 3-pointers rank as the most in program history through 12 games, topping the 112 made at the start of the 2009-10 season.
3. The Illini have a 24-12 advantage in Braggin’ Rights games played in St. Louis, winning each of the last four.
PREDICTION: Missouri 83, Illinois 79