The Missouri Tigers will seek their 11th win on the season Thursday evening when they take on the Illinois Fighting Illini. The game is technically a neutral site game but is taking place in St. Louis, which is just two hours from Columbia. The game is scheduled for a 9:00 PM EST tip-off and will be broadcast on the SEC Network. The Illini are currently a (-5) favorite on the road, while the total is set to 153 points.
Brad Underwood’s team has been difficult to get a read on over the last few weeks as they secure impressive victories and then drop the next game. On November 18th, they defeated a top-ten UCLA squad and then immediately lost to Virginia. On November 29th, they destroyed Syracuse by nearly 30 points and then lost to Maryland. December 6th marked a huge victory over a Texas club that may be a national championship contender, which Illinois celebrated by losing the next game to Penn State by 15 points. This team is truly a Jekyll & Hyde situation.
On the other hand, Missouri has been predictable thus far in the season. They have settled into a trend of “play bad teams and log meaningless victories. While a 10-1 record looks fantastic on paper, eight of those victories coming against teams ranking outside of the Kenpom top 150 do nothing for your resume’ As of this preview, the only games that are going to appear on the Tigers’ Selection Sunday resume’ are a 28 point thrashing against Kansas and a two-point victory against UCF that wasn’t even a true win.
Known as the “Braggin Rights” rivalry, Thursday’s game marks the 48th meeting between the two programs. Illinois leads the all-time series 29-18 and came away from last season’s matchup with a 25-point victory on their home floor. The Illini’s top four scorers from that game, Alfonso Plummer, Kofi Cockburn, Trent Frazier, and Jacob Grandison, who combined to account for 71 of the team’s 88 points, are all no longer with the program.
Illinois Fighting Illini Overview
This Fighting Illini team is one of those teams that is hard to get a read on. This team has the potential to be the one left standing once their regional dust settles in March, but they are also capable of falling to a twelve seed in the opening weekend. What it really boils down to for this team is the play of Terrence Shannon. In each of Illinois’ three losses, Shannon has struggled in some fashion. Against Virginia he committed six turnovers and fouled out of the game. Against Maryland he had a good game with 19 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists but also shot 0-5 from deep. In their most recent stumble against the Nittany Lions, Shannon logged just four points on 2-7 shooting with three turnovers and offensive rating of just 41, the second lowest on the Illinois roster.
This Illinois team is just middle of the road in the Big Ten against the spread at 5-5-1 and basically performing right with the line overall at just +0.6 points per game. Much of that has to do with them receiving large spreads as their margin of victory number is a solid 16.0 points. The Illini have gone under the total in four of their last five games.
Missouri Tigers Overview
The Tigers have something cooking this season, regardless of the level of competition their schedule has presented thus far. It all started with a tremendous hire in Dennis Gates, who turned Cleveland State around in just a few short seasons. Now, Gates is getting the most out of his roster, which runs very deep.
Missouri currently boasts seven players averaging at least 7.9 points per game. While their offense has been fantastic metrically, ranking 13th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency, and second in the country in effective field goal percentage, it is a direct result of playing terrible competition. Against Kansas, Missouri managed just 0.88 points per possession and turned the ball over 21 times. There is a real concern here that the out-of-conference scheduling has not prepared this team to compete in a very good SEC this season.
From a wagering standpoint, Missouri’s resume is also concerning, given their schedule. The Tigers are just 6-5-1 against the spread and underperforming the number by -2.5 points per game. Their margin of victory number is 13.4, which is good for fifth best in the SEC. The total had gone over in four consecutive games prior to the Central Florida result.
Illinois at Missouri Prediction
There is no real reason to overthink this pick. Illinois has a ton of star power and final-four potential while Missouri has played one good team and lost by nearly 30. Fighting Illini should win this matchup by double digits.