Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin and his players aren’t interested in letting the Braggin’ Rights rivalry rile them up. But they know the environment at the Scottrade Center will be charged.
Missouri (10-2) has already sold its allotment for the game against Illinois (8-5) and the team said it will be prepared for a sellout, thanks in part to the exhibition game against Kansas that it played at the Sprint Center before the season began.
“We’ve got a group of guys who aren’t really worried about crowd, don’t really let that affect us,” graduate transfer Kassius Robertson said.
Robertson knew little about the Border War rivalry before playing Kansas, and he said he knows little about the Illinois rivalry. Martin wants to keep it that way. He said there’s no point in discussing it with his team. That would only add extra pressure.
Plus, Martin, who grew up in East St. Louis, Ill., wouldn’t be able to offer much of a history lesson.
“I don’t really remember it as a kid,” the coach said.
Martin has never been to a Braggin’ Rights game, although he said he was an Illinois fan in high school.
The Tigers know the Illini’s supporters will heckle Missouri center Jeremiah Tilmon, who decommitted from Illinois when its new coach, Brad Underwood, took over the program. Martin said it’s the Missouri coaches’ job to put Tilmon “in a position to be OK” while playing in front of crowd that will be close to half full of bitter fans.
Tilmon fouled out of two of his first three college games, but he hasn’t done so since.
“I think he has to go through it to understand what it’s going to be like,” Barnett said. “The closest you’re going to get to that is Kansas, where you have both sides being pretty rowdy at the same time. This is going to be a crowd that, for the most part, is not going to like Jeremiah. I’m sure he’ll figure it out real quick, and I’m sure he’ll respond real well once we all start getting going.”
Illini show similarities to past Missouri opponents
Illinois ranks 13th in the country in opponent turnover rate, according to kenpom.com. Nearly 25 percent of possessions against Illinois’ defense have ended in turnovers this season, and Illinois is averaging 10 steals per game.
Martin thinks the Tigers’ past games against West Virginia, which beat Mizzou by pressing to force turnovers, and Stephen F. Austin, which trapped ball handlers as they dribbled past a pick, will help them prepare for the Illini. Martin said Illinois does a good job of denying the ball from getting to the wings.
“It still goes back, for us, to taking care of the basketball, making sound decisions,” said Martin, whose team turned the ball over a season high 21 times against Stephen F. Austin. “Understand where you need to be.”
Martin wanted to show respect for SFA program
Before coming to Illinois or Oklahoma State, Underwood spent three seasons as coach at Stephen F. Austin, and he made the NCAA Tournament each season.
The Lumberjacks won 20-plus games in eight of the past 10 seasons and have not finished with a losing record since the 2004-05 season.
“Out of respect for their coach and their program, that’s something I wanted to really say to their team before the game started,” Martin said. “Again, watching film as a competitive player studying, learning, I really like some of the things they do as a team, how hard they play. So it was, more than anything, to show my appreciation for their program.
“They’ve been successful the past 10-12 years as a program, so really show appreciation because oftentimes, programs at that level — though they work as hard as anybody — don’t get the credit that they deserve until they get to the NCAA Tournament.”