No. 12 Missouri vs. No. 10 Illinois
• WHEN/WHERE: 5 p.m. Saturday at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis
• TV/RADIO: ESPN2, KMBZ (980 AM, 98.1 FM)
• ABOUT MISSOURI: (9-1): The Tigers could not have been more efficient on Monday, when they buried South Carolina State 102-51 thanks to a combination of inside baskets and pinpoint shooting (57 percent from the field). Missouri had a season-high five players score in double figures, including senior forward Laurence Bowers, who became the 44th player in school history to surpass 1,000 career points with his 11-point outing. The game was the Missouri debut for sophomore swingman Jabari Brown, a transfer from Oregon. Brown had 12 points and three assists and impressed with his unselfish play. Coach Frank Haith also tinkered with the starting lineup, giving freshman forward Stefan Jankovic his first career start and handing senior guard Keion Bell his starting job back.
• ABOUT ILLINOIS: (12-0): The Fighting Illini return four starters from a team that went 17-15 last season and saw its longtime head coach (Bruce Weber, now at K-State) get canned. But after 12 games, it’s clear this group has responded well to energetic new coach John Groce, formerly of Ohio. A big reason for the undefeated start has been the play of senior guard Brandon Paul, who leads the team in points, assists, rebounds and steals. Paul, senior D.J. Richardson and sophomore Tracy Abrams make up a high-scoring backcourt that averages close to 42 points per game, while senior forward Tyler Griffey (8.9 points per game) effectively stretches the floor with his outside shooting.
• BOTTOM LINE: This marks the third consecutive season both teams will be ranked entering the game, but this year’s showdown could be special. While Missouri has put together a strong start despite a number of new faces, a veteran Illinois squad that is coming off a disappointing 2011-2012 season has rallied behind a new coach and is led by several unselfish seniors. Sound familiar? It’s hard not to see the similarities between this year’s Illini and last year’s Missouri squad, which went 30-5 and earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. That makes the Illini dangerous, especially when you consider that several key seniors are riding a three-year losing streak against Missouri and should be particularly motivated to get the win on Saturday. Expect rebounding to be key. Groce admitted Friday that he was worried about the Tigers’ frontcourt size and ability to pound the boards. However, Illinois could negate that advantage by continuing its hot shooting on three-pointers (38.6 percent on the season).
| Terez A. Paylor, firstname.lastname@example.org