Gifts are commonplace on Christmas weekend, but that will be especially true for Missouri basketball fans this year.
The annual Braggin’ Rights game, a neutral-site men’s basketball battle against Illinois at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, is set for Saturday, Dec. 23.
The schools stoked the rivalry’s flames with a joint announcement on Twitter that included dueling shots across the bow from official school accounts.
Mizzou basketball plastered freshman center Jeremiah Tilmon — an East St. Louis (Ill.) graduate, who signed with the Fighting Illini before John Groce was fired and later signed with the Tigers instead — front and center, dunking on the iconic Gateway Arch in its announcement.
St. Louis natives Jordan Barnett, a senior forward, and Cullen VanLeer, a junior guard, flanked Tilmon in the image.
Not to be outdone, Illinois basketball noted that it will be looking for its fifth straight win in the series and the school’s official account hammered home that recent dominance.
Dwindling attendance has plagued the event, which drew at least 20,000 spectators every year except one (19,856 in 2008) before the last two seasons.
The 2015 game drew 14,456 and attendance last season bottomed out at 12,409 with the Tigers’ half of the building mostly empty.
Those are the smallest crowds in the recorded history of the Braggin’ Rights game — unique in that seating at the Scottrade Center is split evenly between Mizzou and Illinois at halfcourt, creating a truly neutral (and usually rowdy) environment.
The 2017 version already was rife with intrigue after the Tigers hired Cuonzo Martin to replace Kim Anderson and the Illini plucked former Oklahoma State coach and Kansas State assistant Brad Underwood to replace Groce during the offseason.
Mizzou boasts one of the top recruiting classes in the country, headlined by Tilmon and consensus No. 1 overall prospect Michael Porter Jr., but Illinois signed three four-star talents — guards Mark Smith, Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams — among a five-player haul.
That makes this season’s Braggin’ Rights game — Illinois leads the series 31-16 — one of the most talent-filled since the series’ inception in 1980.