Thursday's Preview: #24 Illinois vs. #8 Missouri

    
December 22nd, 2011

Thursday is the final "busy day" on the college basketball schedule before Christmas and there's important business to address in St. Louis: Braggin' Rights. Undefeated and eighth-ranked Missouri (11-0) looks for its third straight win over #24 Illinois (11-1) in the series, and despite the change in head coach the Tigers remain one of the most balanced teams in the country. Four players average double figures and two more average at least eight points per game, and with the team averaging 17.3 assists per game it's obvious that Missouri has no problem sharing the wealth. 

Marcus Denmon (19.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg) leads the way offensively for Frank Haith's squad while senior Kim English is second on the team in both minutes and scoring (16.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg). English plays the four at times for the Tigers due to their lack of depth inside with the loss of Laurence Bowers and he's done a good job in the role. A player with his versatility can cause fits for opposing players at the four, and that's something that the Illini may be concerned with on Thursday. Illinois will also need to contend with the physical Ricardo Ratliffe (14.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg) inside, which should be a good measuring stick for seven-footer Meyers Leonard. 

Leonard (13.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.4 bpg) got off to a good start but according the head coach Bruce Weber the sound of folks around him talking "NBA" may have gotten to the sophomore. Baby steps, folks. Leonard has shown himself to be a much-improved product this season but he's still got plenty of work to do. Ratliffe and Steve Moore will both be stronger than Leonard, who will need to counter with his ability to step away from the basket without falling in love with the the mid-range game and neglecting the post. Tyler Griffey is averaging a shade under five rebounds per game and has filled a role similar to that of the departed Bill Cole in that he'll be called on to do many of the little things that teams require in order to be successful. 

On the perimeter is where Illinois could have trouble despite the presence of Brandon Paul (10.7 ppg, 3.2 apg) and D.J. Richardson (14.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg), with the latter being one of the better defenders in the Big Ten. Sam Maniscalco (10.9 ppg, 3.0 apg) runs the show at the point and has been good for Illinois thus far, but his defensive ability will definitely be tested by the Tiger guards. In addiiton to Denmon there's Phil Pressey (8.6 ppg, 6.0 apg), who has done an outstanding job of running the show for Missouri. Matt Pressey and Michael Dixon Jr. are two other options that Missouri can call upon with Dixon averaging 12.6 points per game off the bench.

The one thing that Illinois cannot do is turn the ball over, as Missouri still takes the ball away at a decent clip despite scrapping the full-court pressure employed by Mike Anderson. Missouri's opponents have turned the ball over on 24% of their possessions, and with the Tigers turning the ball over just nine times per game they aren't exactly going to give the ball back either. Illinois turns the ball over on one-fifth of their possessions, a reason why their offensive efficiency is 22.4 points below that of Missouri. With the two teams having nearly the same rebounding margin, turnovers (and the points scored off of them) will likely tell the tale in St. Louis.

Also of note are in-season tournaments in both Las Vegas and Honolulu, with many likely to be trained in on Long Beach State playing Xavier at the Diamond Head Classic. Tu Holloway returns from his one-game suspension but Mark Lyons and Dezmine Wells are both out for the Musketeers, which presents a great opportunity to Dan Monson's 49ers despite the matchup between Holloway and Casper Ware. A key for the Musketeers will be the play of Kenny Frease, as in T.J. Robinson the 49ers bring a very active interior player who brings the effort every night.

In Las Vegas, Saint Mary's could use a marquee win for their resume and Baylor would be a great team to do that against. But do the Gaels have enough help for Rob Jones inside to deal with the Bears' frontcourt? Saint Mary's will lean heavily on Jones and point guard Matthew Dellavedova, with the latter being a good test for Scott Drew's backcourt. Memphis, who has played one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country, will look to apply the lessons learned from their loss to Georgetown in Maui as they visit the Hoyas in the nation's capital. But in order to do so the Tigers must eliminate the defensive lapses that have const them in other big games this season if they're to win.

Connecticut (hosting Fairfield) and Marquette (hosting Milwaukee) should be on notice in their game, with the Golden Eagles looking to rebound from their loss at LSU and the Huskies taking on a Fairfield team that will contend in the MAAC. There's also going to be a pair of Olanders on the floor in that one, as older brother Ryan (Fairfield) looks to hand Tyler's Huskies a very rare non-conference loss to an in-state opponent. Butler visits Stanford in a game the Bulldogs really need for their profile before heading into Horizon League play, Kansas visits a USC team that looked like an offensive juggernaut on Monday night, and Tulane gets a chance to show that they're as good as their record in the Carrier Dome.  

Top 25 Games
7:00 PM Tulane at (1) Syracuse (SNY)
8:30 PM Miami (OH) at (2) Ohio State (BTN)
1:00 PM Loyola (MD) at (3) Kentucky (ESPN3)
10:30 PM Saint Mary's vs. (7) Baylor (ESPN3)
9:00 PM (24) Illinois at (8) Missouri (ESPN2)
7:00 PM Fairfield at (9) Connecticut (ESPN3)
9:00 PM Milwaukee at (10) Marquette (ESPN3)
11:00 PM (11) Kansas at USC (FSN)
7:00 PM Florida State at (12) Florida (ESPNU)
11:00 PM Long Beach State vs. (15) Xavier* (ESPNU)
7:00 PM Memphis at (16) Georgetown (ESPN2)
8:00 PM Northwestern State at (17) Mississippi State
6:00 PM UMBC at (18) Indiana (ESPN3)
6:30 PM Bradley at (19) Michigan (BTN)
9:00 PM Lehigh at (20) Michigan State (ESPNU)
8:05 PM Northwestern at (21) Creighton (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Florida Atlantic at (25) Harvard

NCAA Division I Games
2:30 PM UTEP vs. Clemson* (ESPNU)
3:00 PM Texas A&M-CC vs. Bethune-Cookman*
4:30 PM Kansas State vs. Southern Illinois* (ESPNU)
5:00 PM South Alabama vs. San Diego*
5:30 PM Tennessee Tech vs. Kennesaw State*
6:00 PM Mount St. Mary's at Savannah State
7:00 PM Bryant at Arizona (FSN AZ)
7:00 PM James Madison at George Washington
7:00 PM Delaware at Howard
7:00 PM Mercer at Georgia Tech
7:00 PM Bucknell at Boston University
7:00 PM San Francisco at Holy Cross
7:00 PM Davidson at Massachusetts
7:00 PM Gardner-Webb at East Carolina
7:00 PM Northeastern at NC State (ESPN3)
7:00 PM American at Villanova
7:00 PM Eastern Michigan at Virginia Tech (ESPN3)
7:00 PM VMI at Old Dominion
7:00 PM Charleston at Coastal Carolina
7:00 PM Sam Houston State at Cleveland State
7:00 PM Campbell at Appalachian State
7:00 PM Drexel at Binghamton
7:00 PM La Salle at Central Connecticut State
7:00 PM Alabama State at Detroit
7:00 PM Texas State at Fordham
7:00 PM Georgia Southern at Georgia State
7:00 PM Colgate at Hofstra
7:00 PM Rider at Monmouth
7:00 PM VCU at UNC Greensboro (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Navy at Presbyterian
7:00 PM Niagara at Quinnipiac
7:00 PM Princeton at Siena (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Central Michigan at Wright State
7:05 PM Toledo at Florida Gulf Coast
7:05 PM Robert Morris at Youngstown State
7:30 PM Elon at San Diego State
7:30 PM NJIT at Rutgers (RVision)
7:30 PM Loyola (IL) at Canisius (ESPN3)
7:30 PM Bowling Green at Florida International
7:30 PM Miami (FL) at Charlotte
7:30 PM North Carolina Central vs. Prairie View A&M*
7:30 PM Texas-Arlington vs. Saint Peter's*
8:00 PM Jacksonville at UAB
8:00 PM Louisiana Tech at Arkansas
8:00 PM North Dakota State at Minnesota
8:00 PM Arkansas State at Saint Louis
8:00 PM Rice at Texas A&M
8:00 PM LSU at North Texas
8:00 PM Missouri State vs. West Virginia* (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Dallas Christian at SMU
8:00 PM USF at Southern Miss
8:00 PM Grambling State at TCU
8:00 PM UTSA at Troy
8:00 PM North Dakota at Western Illinois
8:00 PM Idaho at Green Bay
8:05 PM Texas Tech at Oral Roberts
8:30 PM Boise State at Iowa (BTN.com)
9:00 PM Butler at Stanford (FSN)
9:00 PM Texas Southern at Colorado
9:00 PM Utah Valley at Montana
9:00 PM UMKC at New Mexico
9:00 PM UCSB at BYU (BYU TV)
9:00 PM UC Davis at Southern Utah
9:00 PM Wyoming at Idaho State
9:00 PM Citadel at Denver
9:00 PM Air Force at Gonzaga (Root NW)
9:00 PM Colorado State at Northern Colorado
9:00 PM Utah at Weber State
10:00 PM San Jose State at UC Riverside
10:00 PM Cal State Northridge at Washington
10:00 PM Hope International at UC Irvine
10:00 PM Portland at Nevada
10:00 PM Stephen F. Austin at Oregon
10:00 PM Washington State at Pepperdine
10:00 PM Pacific at Cal State Bakersfield
10:05 PM Southeast Missouri State at Sacramento State
10:05 PM Kent State at Utah State
10:05 PM Portland State at Cal State Fullerton
1:00 AM Auburn at Hawaii (ESPNU)